Supernatural : The Pilot – On the Nature of Loss

I’ve been watching supernatural since its beginning but I didn’t start actually reviewing the episodes until last year.  So, as a lead up to the eleventh season of Supernatural, I’d like to do theme reviews of some of my favorite episodes from each season. Episodes I feel best embody the overall themes of the show and the relationship of the Winchesters. (And for added fun, I’m going to be completely random.)

We’ll start with the episode that I blame for this whole thing: The Pilot. And the woman at whose feet we can lay the blame for everything we see and know afterwards. The wheels are set in motion by Mary Winchester and we start with her.

It’s an ideal family dynamic. Mom, Dad, little boy and baby, but there’s already a worm in this apple. Later that night, Mary gets up to check on her baby boy. Realizing that the man in the room with her son is not her husband, (he’s asleep in front of the TV) , the show gives us our first jump scare, and we’re not even five minutes in.

But that’s one of the basic premises of the show. Belief in  one thing, but then finding out the horrifying truth that things are not as you thought they were. During the first season, it’s how the show provides most of its basic scares. Hearing his wife screaming, only to find her gutted and burning on his baby boy’s ceiling, John utters the fateful words that little Dean will carry with him for the rest of his life, causing no end of pain and misery for both his children.

“Take your brother outside as fast as you can! Don’t look back! Now Dean!”

The look of horror and misery on John’s face, as he cradles his babies, on the hood of the Chevy Impala that they will, from that time onward, refer to as home, indicates a man who has lost any and all hope for happiness. His  vision has narrowed down to one thing…vengeance.

If movies and tv shows have taught us nothing else, it’s that the cost of vengeance, is blood.

John’s baby boy is all grown up and attending college. It’s an idyllic situation, too. He’s just starting in life, he has friends, a girl he loves and the beginning of a career. When we first meet Sam, he has no backstory. We have no idea what he’s gone through between the death of his mother and now. That story will be fleshed out over the next four seasons.

Later that evening, Sam hears a noise in his and Jessica’s apartment and goes to investigate, paralleling what happened in the Winchester home, two decades ago. I love this scene,  when we first meet grownup Dean. He’s a total, four-score, jerk and I hated him immediately. I got over that, eventually, though.

It’s a beautifully shot, chiaroscuro scene, with only the backlighlighting off the brothers clothing to give us any hints of their fight. The cinematography and fight choreography is just gorgeous here, and remains so, throughout the whole of the first season. I am a sucker for a good fight scene, apparently.

I think this is the moment I I fell in love with this show.

After the brothers have calmed themselves down, Dean ogles Jessica for a minute, then gets to his reason for visiting. He’s lost Dad. It’s indicative of Dean’s nature that the moment he thinks their father might be dead, it’s Sam he goes to. It’s not as if he’s never been alone. He’s been hunting alone the entire time, so what emotion actually prompted him to seek out his brother?

Sam agrees to accompany him, in the search for their father, for two days. He has a life he needs to get back to. While they’re hunting their Dad, the two of them begin to hash out some old issues and we start to get some idea of what kind of life Sam had before he went to school, including the fight with their father that prompted his departure, and tore Dean’s life apart. Dean would have been content for the three of them to go on living and hunting like that forever. It’s Sam’s departure (and subsequent return) that is the catalyst for some serious self reflection, for him. And throughout the first season, we start to get some inkling that maybe Dean wants (wanted) a little more out of life.

Much of the show’s scares, at least in the first season, are also based on urban myths. This episode combines the urban myth of the Phantom Hitchhiker with the Hispanic myth of La Llorona, the Woman in White, or The Grieving Mother. The Phantom Hitchhiker is often the ghost of a young woman who just wants to go home, and this is combined with the myth of the Mother who drowned her children, whose guilt and shame will not allow her to rest. She spends eternity washing children’s clothing in local bodies of water, or luring and drowning other people’s children. Often, she is a portent of death, like The Black Dog, or The Banshee. If you see her, someone you know will die soon.

This particular ghost is hunting young men on the highway. Pretending to need a ride home but killing the Good Samaritan before they reach it, because she’s punishing all men as stand-ins for the lover who left her, and trying to avoid the ghosts of the children she lost. Sam and Dean, with the assistance of the Impala, (we eventually learn is named Baby,) solve the mystery and her dilemma, by crashing the car into the house, where the children wait to take her home.

This is also one of the show’s great premises as well. The plot is often an echo of whatever emotional dilemma the brothers are dealing with that week. Sometimes it sets up backstory but often  the resolution of the plot is an indication of where Sam and Dean are in their relationship, at that time. Is it cracked, fixed, stable, broken? What is the issue and does it need more talking?

La Llorona’s inability to deal with the loss of her children costs innumerable lives and her need for revenge prevents her from finding any rest. This is a parallel to the story of the Winchesters. This is John’s story, specifically. The loss of the wife/mother created an imbalance in their universe, to such an incredible degree that, just like her, they can never go home again, and spend all of their time riding the back roads of the country, seeking vengeance and killing. And eventually costing innumerable lives.

They, too, are portents of death. To see the Winchesters means someone or something is going to die.

If the show really wants to parallel La Llorona’s story, with that of the Winchesters, then at some point, the brothers  have to stop killing and traveling, and be allowed to go home and find rest.

Sam gets back to school in time to witness Jessica’s death, disemboweled and burning on the ceiling. It is Dean who saves him from the fire again, so that the show ends exactly where it began, with the brothers lives upheaved, once again, by the loss of a prominent female figure. Females are often stand-ins, on the show, for all that is good, stable and  peaceful, in the world. That the brothers cannot have women in their lives, is a given, if that is the show’s philosophy.

“Take your brother outside as fast as you can! Don’t look back!”

The show begins as it means to go on, as Dean follows this order, for the next thirty years. Because of that first loss, he has a nearly, pathological inability to deal with any other, which will at one point cost him his soul, his life, his brother’s life , and eventually cause the destruction of the world, several times, over the next decade.

This is what John started.

(But the catalyst for so much misery is that very first decision made by Mary, because of her inability to deal with loss. For the backstory on that see the episode, The Song Remains the Same, in season five.)

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18 thoughts on “Supernatural : The Pilot – On the Nature of Loss

  1. Dean didn’t to Sam due to losing John but because John told him to go to Sam to protect him.
    Dean wanted his family together and to hunt.
    Actually this woman in white was punishing her unfaithful husband and avoid the ghosts of the children she murdered and who want revenge their deaths not take her home.

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  2. I really love your analysis and especially the way you explain the parallel between John, Sam and Dean and La Llorona.

    I never looked at the brothers as portents of Death but that’s most certainly what they turned into ans it seems their ability to rack up the body count increases every year. To complete the parallel, Dean transformed himself in the Angel of Death by reaping the Horseman of Death himself.

    What’s also fascinating is that Dean, who embodies victory over death as he’s ditched it so many times, was in a way, more powerful than the Horseman at the time. In a way. The Horseman couldn’t kill Dean because of the Mark, and Dean killed Death while he himself was immortal. He just needs to put on the ring and call himself Big Daddy Reaper already.

    “If the show really wants to parallel La Llorona’s story, with that of the Winchesters, then at some point, the brothers have to stop killing and traveling, and be allowed to go home and find rest.” Wouldn’t it be swell if Tessa (I know she’s dead but humor me, I’m in denial about her demise), came at the last moments of the series finale and told Dean. “It’s time to go home. You too, Sam. I’m here to take you home.”

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    1. I’m always surprised by how many people love Tessa. Not that I don’t like her. She was okay but she didn’t make as big an impression on me as she did for some people. Apparently she seemed to really strike a note for some people. I would love it if someone could write about why they love her (hint,hint!)

      Oh I don’t think I was clear about the portent of death thing. It’s not that I believe it but the reactions of the monsters on the show, towards them ,is very interesting. I got that idea from certain things other characters have said. I’m fascinated at the idea that, in their universe, the Winchesters are kind of infamous. They’re not just known as great hunters but the supernatural community, the monsters themselves, know them and talk about how dangerous they are.

      Basically when the Winchesters are in town, I imagine a lot of the smarter monsters just lay low in the hopes of not attracting their attention. They know when the Winchesters are in town, something or someone is going to die. Isn’t that a presentiment of death?

      In a sense, Dean and Sam have always been avatars of death, only for monsters, rather than people.

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      1. “I’m always surprised by how many people love Tessa”

        I like her but not more than other characters. I was sad when she dies but not heartbroken!

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      2. ” I would love it if someone could write about why they love her (hint,hint!)”

        LOL, okay, I’ll bite. I just think she was an interesting character. She was different. She had an otherworldly aura about her and she came across as reasoned and impartial at a time where everybody was losing their minds about the apocalypse. I’ve also seen the kind of detachment she manifested in the Horseman. They’re death, and it was always interesting to see how unbothered they were when humans start acting like their pants were on fire. Reapers know they’re inevitable and sooner or later, everybody’s coming to them. I think Lindsey McMahon conveyed that quality well. I also liked her introduction and her relationship with Dean, plus she was used so sparingly that seeing her back was ALWAYS a treat.

        “Oh I don’t think I was clear about the portent of death thing. It’s not that I believe it but the reactions of the monsters on the show, towards them ,is very interesting. I got that idea from certain things other characters have said. I’m fascinated at the idea that, in their universe, the Winchesters are kind of infamous. They’re not just known as great hunters but the supernatural community, the monsters themselves, know them and talk about how dangerous they are.”

        I completely agree with that. When monsters go to sleep, they check under their bed for a Winchester, but I also see the Winchesters as avatars of death, for people. I think it was expressed well in LARP and the Real Girl. Charlie’s face fell when she saw them and she tried to run. “If you guys are here…” Interesting foreshadowing but I look at it as a good representation of what the Winchesters are. A lot of people die just because they were around them and their codependency, which I live for, blows up the world every two seasons. Don’t get me wrong I love it, but they’re dangerous to humans too.

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  3. That was a great analysis of the shows dynamic. The avoidance of loss has cost everyone so much. As you pointed our, Dean inherited his Mother’s pathological avoidance of loss. It makes me wonder what happened during Mary’s life that she would barter her soul and that of her unborn child in order to resurrect her boyfriend. That is the story I want to know. It’s not as if Mary was unfamiliar with demons and supernatural phenomena; she was raised a hunter from a long line of hunters. Why would she damn her soul for John instead of bringing her parents back? Then how did Mary’s lies about her life impact her marriage to John? Sam was lying to Jessica just like Mary lied to John. John left Mary at one point. why? Again, avoidance of the potential loss of a relationship if the truth were known if their partners knew. Women have been used as plot devices to represent love and stability, but most of the women are portrayed as lying and/or manipulative (Meg, Bella, Ruby, Anna, Abbadon, Tess, and of course Mary). Female demons are routinely placed within the Winchester inner circle. I think Sam and Dean at this point in their lives are in the throes of a emotional melt down. I doubt if the show will actually explore how this life has actually mentally and emotionally scarred these two forever, but it would be fascinating to watch!

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    1. Great reply but I’m going to disagree on one tiny point. I think the show has been showing, in tiny increments, just how psychologically messed up the brothers are. It’s in their reactions to hardship, the decisions they make, how they behave towards each other. And their reaction to normalcy. This was most clearly depicted in season six, with Dean and Lisa. Dean was clearly suffering from some major PTSD, from the life he had lived.

      Their relationship is often described as co-dependent, and that’s as good a word as any, though not exact, I think. But they are pathologically dependent on each other .

      The show started with loss and along the way they’ve been steadily shedding people, places and sometimes things. If you mean you hope the show will depict how so much loss has affected them, I hope so too. Maybe we will get some idea of that this season, as we haven’t really seen them deal with all the losses they’ve had since the death of Bobby.

      As for women as deceptive and manipulative, you’re right. I didn’t even see that part. Women represent stability but then that stability is not reliable as most of the women they meet are really not reliable either. The few times they’ve known stability and peace, it was interrupted, like with Dean and Lisa, or was deceptive or not real, and had to be rejected, like Sam and Amelia.

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      1. Another angle on loss: There is in the West, arising from Christianity, the Knight Errant. You have seen The Searches, John Wayne turning away from the home he can never have but has saved at great cost, destined in his special glory to ride off into the sunset. John Wayne, the myth of the finest American male.

        Sam and Dean are Knight Errands. Grail Seekers, Serve. Protect. Leave. They have again a different glory like Knights in Shining Armour, or The Long Ranger. Their reality is just outside the normal world, forever on the edge where reality folds and bents. It is worth noting that Lancelot, lover of women, defeated only by witchcraft, seducer of his lord’s wife, and destroyer of Camelot, dies as a holy hermit.

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        1. I see your point, but since the brothers are not as virtuous as John Wayne, I prefer to think of them more like Clint Eastwood’s Man with No Name or Mifune’s Yojimbo. They are limnal characters that are a little more sinister, a little more suspicious. Sometimes you’re not entirely certain if they’re there to help you, your foe, or themselves.

          Towards the end there, you have perfectly described Castiel.

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    2. “It makes me wonder what happened during Mary’s life that she would barter her soul and that of her unborn child in order to resurrect her boyfriend. That is the story I want to know. It’s not as if Mary was unfamiliar with demons and supernatural phenomena; she was raised a hunter from a long line of hunters. Why would she damn her soul for John instead of bringing her parents back? ”

      I think Mary’s parents represent a life she didn’t choose and wanted to escape. John on the other hand, was the life she chose, a new beginning and all her hope for a safe life with love, children and stability. Losing John was losing her future. Her dreams.

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      1. Agreed about Mary. However I find it ironic that when Samuel was resurrected during season 6 he wanted to bring Mary back instead of Deanna, his wife. I wonder if he ever learned that Mary chose John over her family. He was so bent to bring back Mary that he sold out his grandsons. Another back story that I would love to see. The Campbell’s were the originators of the dysfunctional family dynamic. John was a victim of that family.

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          1. “Interesting take on that? Yeah, John kind of stumbled into the middle of the whole hunting thing.”

            Even without Mary and her family, if his Dad had lived, he would have been in the hunting thing as a MOL. So he was destined to be involved..somehow or other.

            Liked by 1 person

            1. Yes, true.

              As more people analyze the show, my thoughts keep evolving about certain characters. After reading one of the newer analysis about John, I came to this conclusion too.

              There are some things about the show, I just have a blind spot for, since I have so little lived experience with it, and John Winchester is one of my blind spots.

              It’s one of the reasons I refuse to analyze Castiel. I have nothing but true love and a lot of thoughts about him, but there’s a lot about him I just don’t get, and can’t see clearly, so I avoid it.

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    1. “The show begins as it means to go on, as Dean follows this order, for the next thirty years. Because of that first loss, he has a nearly, pathological inability to deal with any other, which will at one point cost him his soul, his life, his brother’s life , and eventually cause the destruction of the world, several times, over the next decade.

      This is what John started.

      (But the catalyst for so much misery is that very first decision made by Mary, because of her inability to deal with loss. ”

      This is it in a nutshell.

      Liked by 1 person

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