Supernatural S1E3: Dead in the Water

by thethreepennyguignol

Catch up on the set-up for these recaps, what questions I’m trying to answer in them, and my review of the pilot here!

A show as vast as Supernatural needs some of its own folklore.

And that’s what this week’s episode, Dead in the Water, really feels like the start of. If the first two episodes both act as pilots – one for the mythology plot, and one for the Monster-of-the-week set-up – then this third episode feels like an introduction to something else; to Supernatural’s history, and especially, the Winchesters place in it.

Especially, this week, Dean’s place. The last couple of episodes have been very much set around Sam, which is fine, and makes a lot of sense: Sam is the audience’s way into the Winchesters’ lives, and he’s the one around which the majority of the functional plot revolves (losing his girlfriend, making the decision to hunt with Dean again, etc). But Dead in the Water feels like the first dedicated Dean episode of the show’s run, and a real start to building the folklore around the Winchester brothers and their lives at large.

Now, I’d like to give a little love to Jensen Ackles in this here episode. I’m not convinced that Ackles is an amazing actor in general (I haven’t seen him in enough non-Supernatural stuff to know one way or the other), but I do know that he’s so fucking hot it makes my knickers evaporate oh my GOD really great as Dean. Dean, in so many ways, is a really restrained character: he’s the absolute epitome of this blustering, womanizing, emotion-free masculinity that was everywhere on TV at the time that Supernatural came into being.

But, if there’s a single arc that runs through almost every season of Supernatural, it’s unpacking that masculinity and forcing Dean to Have and Use his Emotions, whether he wants to or not. Dead in the Water is the beginning of that; Dean, faced with a child turned mute after witnessing the supernatural (heh) death of his father, delves into some of his own childhood trauma to connect with this kid and get the truth of what happened out of him before someone else buys it.

And it’s a chance for the show to really get into some of its own folklore. Viewing things through the lens of Sam, as we have done so far, has distanced us from the actual impact of the death of Mumchester, but centreing Dean in this episode gives us a chance to get into it. Supernatural is very much about the real-life (well, ish) impact that folklore and myth has on people in the world of the show, and this is a perfect chance to start laying the groundwork for its own mythology, and just how that has impacted Dean, as the son old enough to remember what happened. Supernatural was just starting to carve out its own place in folklore and fiction, marking out the rules for not just how it works, but how it impacts the characters, too. We’ve got to see not just what happens, but what happens next, too – and the scars that it leaves on our leading men.

I really enjoy Jensen Ackles in this episode, and I think it’s so important for Supernatural as a whole to balance out the emotional stakes between the two brothers; Dean’s fun as the devil-may-care (or angel-may-fuck) man on the ground, but reminding us that this history, this mythology, this folklore that the show is building has had a real impact on him – well, that feels like a much more interesting take on the character, and Ackles does really well drawing out some of that softness. The bisexual questions reminds mostly uncommented on, but I’m bisexual and I like him in this episode, so all signs point to “raging bi”.

As for the other question in my Great Supernatural Query, I actually think the plot of this episode could be read as a bit of a nod towards John Winchester’s later less-than-friendly depiction in the show; it follows a man whose previous actions lead to the endangering of his children, pretty much the same set-up as Dean and Sam have dealt with in their own father-sons relationship. It’s not exactly an explicit John-Winchester-is-the-real-villain statement, but there are parallels to be drawn here – especially with Dean and the man’s grandson being so closely tied thematically – that are hard to ignore.

I really like Dead in the Water; it’s the first major Dean-centric episode we’ve had so far, and Ackles is on good form to carry it. We’re still setting everything up in the world of Supernatural, but there’s enough going on while we’re at it to keep me firmly engaged with everything that’s going on so far.

If you enjoyed this post and want to see more stuff like it, please consider checking out my other recapping projects – JerichoLostSex and the CityDoctor Who, and Carrie are good places to start! Please also have a look at my fiction work, such as my short story collection, Misandry. And you can always support me on Patreon for access to exclusive blog posts!

(header image via Doux Reviews)