Retro Recap and Review: Supernatural 1.18: Something Wicked

This entry is part 18 of 22 in the series Supernatural Season 1

By Paula R. Stiles

[spoilers ahoy]

Tagline: Yep, it’s another mini-hiatus of two weeks, so it’s back to the Wayback Machine for a season-one episode involving weeChesters, a creepy witch straight out of the Brothers Grimm, and John treating his young sons as bait.

Recap: It’s the usual season-one recap of the mytharc about Mary’s death. Cut to Fitchburg, Wisconsin, where a little girl is saying her prayers before bed, while her father watches. In their subsequent conversation, we find out that her older sister (who sleeps in the same room with her) is sick at the hospital, where her mother is watching over her (so she must be very sick). The father kisses his daughter goodnight and leaves, turning out the night, with the little girl apparently going to sleep. But later, we see her sitting up in bed, wide awake and scared, staring at her sister’s empty bed. You just know she saw something. When the branches of a tree outside bang against the window, she gets out and scampers over to pull shut the flimsy curtains, then gets back in bed. But it’s a vain gesture. The shadow of the branches turns into a clawed hand, which opens the window and pulls back the covers. The little girl looks up into a gnarled face and a gaping, glowing mouth, and shrieks.

Cue title cards.

Cut to rock music (UFO’s “Rock Bottom”) and the Impala roaring down the road on a cloudy day. The brothers are arguing (Golly, that never happens) about some coordinates from John that are sending them to Fitchburg. Sam says he did research and couldn’t find a thing indicating a hunt. Dean says it’s either a hunt or they’ll meet their father there, and won’t brook any further argument.

In Fitchburg, Dean gets coffees for himself and Sam, while pumping the locals for info. All he gets is a local waitress who doesn’t like Freemasons. Magic Sam notices no kids on the playground, even though it’s four in the afternoon, and immediately makes a cognitive leap to that being odd (I’m glad they later made Sam’s leaps of logic more…well…logical). Dean goes over to talk to the lone mother and child, and the mother says there’s a small epidemic going on. It’s only five or six kids, but parents are worried, so they’re keeping their children home. This seems to tick something over inside Dean’s own head as the plot anvils from the car scene catch up to him.

At the hospital, Sam has to introduce himself as Jerry Kaplan from the Center for Disease Control, using a fake ID from Dean for a “bikini inspector” (Both Jensen Ackles and Jared Padalecki had trouble with this scene – Ackles because he kept cracking up at the phrase “bikini inspector” and Padalecki because he kept calling himself “Jerry O’Connell”). Because nurses are dumb in TV Land, he gets away with it, even after the nurse at the desk asks for his ID.

On their way up, though, Dean’s humour fades when he sees an evil-looking old hag in a wheelchair, sitting in a room with an inverted crucifix on the wall. This gives Dean another tweak that he can’t quite place. Upstairs in the ICU, he and Sam talk to a nice pediatrician named ‘Dr. Heidacker’, who tells them he’s baffled by the cases. The kids are all unconscious and appear to have some kind of bacterial pneumonia. But their immune systems aren’t fighting it. Also, as the brothers go from the doctor to a nurse to Teaser Dad, they find out it goes through families, hitting only the kids. Dean gets another internal newsflash when Teaser Dad admits the window was open after his younger daughter got sick. Sam is still skeptical at this point, but suggests they go over to the house while Teaser Dad is still at the hospital. There, they find nothing until Sam opens the window next to the old tree and discovers a clawed handprint “rotted” into the windowsill (You’d think clueless Teaser Dad might have noticed that when he closed the window). Looking at it, Dean finally gets the brainstorm that’s been threatening to break. He has a flashback to Dick (sorry, John) going off on a hunt for several days, leaving a nine-year-old Dean to watch over a young Sam, who is sitting in a chair, listening to music and utterly oblivious to the fact that his dad is even leaving. John sternly says that weeDean can’t make any mistakes and then leaves him.

In the present, Dean says he understands now why John left them the coordinates. John knew this was something he had hunted (and, obviously, missed) in the past and he sent the brothers to finish it up.

Why, yes, all that does make John Winchester look like a total douchebag, doesn’t it?

Later that night, outside a local motel, Sam tries to quiz Dean on why he thinks their MOTW is a “shtriga”, causing Dean to do a fair bit of dancing around the truth of a hunt John never put in his journal. John encountered the shtriga sixteen or seventeen years ago in Fort Douglas, Wisconsin and didn’t catch it. Dean claims not to remember why (and Sam’s completely blanked the whole incident), only insisting that John must have located it here and wanted them to “finish the job.” Dean then checks in with a fake credit card.

The motel manager is a weary-looking mother (played by the sorely underused Venus Terzo of Da Vinci’s Inquest and many cartoon voiceovers fame). Dean also encounters the smartmouthed older son of her two, who makes an immature and unfunny joke about Dean and Sam being gay before his mom comes in and tells him to go get his brother some dinner. As the kid pours his brother some milk, Dean has another depressing flashback to a day or two after the previous one. In it, weeDean is fixing weeSam some dinner. weeSam is suddenly interested in when their dad is coming home, despite not even noticing his departure before. He also is very manipulative (as five-year-olds are) and maneuvers weeDean into giving him Spaghettios he then decides he doesn’t want and then the last of a box of Lucky Charms, which weeDean was saving for himself (since weeSam had already had most of it). weeSam then takes out the prize and gives it to him instead of the cereal, which we are supposed to think is cute.

What a brat. Call Nanny 911, stat!

Dean is startled out of his reverie/flashback by the motel manager. Later, Sam establishes that Dean was right. It is a shtriga (They really do exist! But why is Sam researching Hindu demons on his computer, instead? Big fail, art department!). They’re shapeshifting witches from Albania who look like old women in their natural state, but “can take on human form” (Since when are old women not human?) and can’t be killed by anything. Dean corrects him that they can actually be killed while feeding, by consecrated iron, even though he doesn’t really remember anything about the hunt. Dean immediately remembers the old woman at the hospital, which Sam thinks is funny until Dean mentions the inverted cross. Dean has also mapped out the houses of the victims, which surround the hospital. Sam, for his part, has discovered that shtrigas steal the “spiritus vitae” (basically, “breath of life”) from their victims, which is why their victims lose their vitality, sicken and die.

Late that night, at the hospital, they go to the woman’s room. Dean pulls out an absolutely enormous pistol, which makes Sam do a doubletake. Inside, the old woman is sitting upright in her chair, cataracted eyes open. When Dean leans over to see if she’s dead, though, she suddenly wakes up, making Dean recoil back into the wall. It turns out she’s just an old woman and thinks they’re there to steal from her. Sam quickly covers for them, saying they’re from Maintenance, so she tells them to fix her crucifix, which she had asked about four times, already. An embarrassed and shaken Dean complies.

Meanwhile, at the motel, the manager’s sons are asleep when something opens the window.

The next morning, Sam is still laughing at Dean’s mistake: “I was sleepin’ with my peepers open!” Dean is hugely embarrassed and tries to brush it off. But the amusement of the moment fades when Dean spots the older brother, Michael, sitting alone on a bench. The younger brother, Asher, is very sick and Michael blames himself for not making sure the window was closed. He’s responsible for keeping his brother safe. Dean reassures him that it’s not his fault and, when Michael’s mother comes out in a rush, Dean offers to drive her to the hospital, while Sam picks up her purse after she drops it. Before he leaves, Dean quietly and intensely tells Sam that he intends to kill the shtriga, one way or the other.

At the library (which never thrills the staff), Sam fields a call from Dean at the ICU (which forbids cell phones because they interfere with important equipment) about Asher’s condition, which isn’t good. Sam has found a pattern. The shtriga hits a town in Wisconsin every fifteen to twenty years. The earliest record is Black River Falls in the 1890s. And the worst part? The shtriga drains dozens of children before moving on. And they always die.

As he’s talking to Dean, Sam runs through the microfilm to one startling photograph from the 1893 epidemic. One of the doctors is a dead ringer for Dr. Heidacker. Maybe I’ve just watched too many Highlander episodes, but I had to laugh at this bit because it’s such an old X-Files chestnut – the immortal monster that’s too dumb (or arrogant) to stay away from cameras, and even poses for them, decade after decade. Even so, this is a chilling scene, because Dean gets a dead, cold look on his face, turns around, and there’s Dr. Heidacker, sitting next to Asher with his hand on the kid’s head, comforting the mother. It’s chilling, of course, because the shtriga is right there next to its victim in broad daylight, and there’s no way to prove it. But it’s also scary because we don’t quite know how Dean will react. That’s the really cool thing about making Dean so dangerous and unpredictable. You never know for sure if he might just pull out a pistol and go for it, right there.

Sam even says this afterward, back at the motel. Dean admits he thought about it, but restrained himself (barely, with a twitch at every double entendre from Heidacker about “taking care” of the kids) because he wasn’t going to shoot the shtriga on a pediatrics ward when it was invulnerable – and, more importantly, he wasn’t armed at the time. Otherwise, he admits, he might have done it “just on principle”. Dean is furious and shaken by his close encounter, and more determined than ever not to let the thing get away this time. He has a plan. It involves using Michael as bait, since the shtriga will surely come back for him that night. Sam’s horrified, but Dean insists that they can’t let it get away. They might not find it again for years and more kids might die. More kids have died because he made a mistake a decade and a half ago.

While a shocked Sam listens, we get another flashback. In voiceover, Dean says that after three days, he couldn’t stay inside, anymore, and he went out to play video games. When the place closed up, he came back, only to find the shtriga inside the motel, feeding on weeSam. weeDean quietly got the shotgun, but as he was trying to get up the courage to fire, the thing lifted its head and saw him. At that moment, John came rushing in, yelled at weeDean to get out of the way, and shot the thing in the torso. He then brushed right past weeDean to go to weeSam and make sure he was all right, cuddling him in a way we never, ever saw him do with Dean after Mary’s death. The most Dean got was a pat on the head, like a dog. John then yelled at weeDean about where he had been and gave weeDean a look of pure disgust as weeDean tried to stammer through an explanation about only being out for a little bit.

There are quite a few things wrong with this scene, some of them intentional and some of them not. It is never explained, for example, how John was close enough to know that weeSam was in trouble, yet didn’t know that weeDean had gone out. At best, it makes him look like an idiot and at worst, he conveniently blames Dean when he knowingly dangled the two kids in front of the shtriga as bait. Worse, there is never a hint that he left the kids with any weapons they could use against the shtriga. And worst of all, he takes his kids to a town where a creature is preying on children, gives them no information about the MOTW so that they won’t be forewarned beyond the usual “Look out for evil” instructions, and leaves them alone for three freakin’ days.

How anyone – anyone – could like this character, and not think he was an absolute prick and an abusive father is beyond me. I don’t care how sexy Jeffrey Dean Morgan looks in a leather jacket. John not only knowingly puts his children in extreme peril, he then blames his eldest when the plan goes completely sideways! Is there really any moral grey here? Because I’m not seeing it. Only a year in Hell? He got off easy.

Back in the present, Dean finishes the story. John grabbed the two of them and fled to Pastor Jim’s, where he dropped them off (which is what he should have done in the first place) and went back to finish the botched job. But the shtriga had already fled. Dean says they never talked about it again, but John always “looked at me different,” which humiliated Dean and made him feel even more guilty. In his eyes, he had disobeyed his father and nearly gotten his brother killed. Hence his rigid obedience to John now. He figures that their father sent him this job because it was “unfinished business”.

There is a strong subtext in this story (though it’s never stated outright) that Dean has read the situation wrong. That John used his kids as bait and was ashamed of it. That it freaked him out how close he came to losing his youngest and the position in which he had put his eldest. This would explain the flash of anger at weeDean, the trip to Pastor Jim’s, the utter silence about it afterward, even down to not putting it in his journal (because it wasn’t his finest hour by any stretch). Is this a mitigating circumstance for John? No. Lots of abusive parents feel badly about what they’re doing, but they do it, anyway. And the most abusive thing is their refusal to admit it, to do anything to repair the damage they inflict on their child. John’s head was so far up his own ass that it seems to have never occurred to him to sit Dean down and tell him it wasn’t his fault (until, of course, he was about to die and leave Dean with an even more horrible secret!). Because it wasn’t. It was John’s.

Over Sam’s objections, Dean takes their case to Michael. At first, unsurprisingly, Michael thinks they’re nuts and threatens to call the cops. When Dean lays it all out for him – that he’s seen the thing, too, and that he and Sam are hunters of things like that – it doesn’t go well, at first. They’re forced to return to their motel room, empty-handed. But in the end, Michael knocks on the door. After a little Selfless Big Brother bonding, he agrees to act as bait, even though Dean can’t guarantee him that killing the shtriga will help Asher.

Later that night, with a No Vacancy sign out front, the brothers set Michael up in his bedroom with a night vision camera. They’ll be in the other room, watching for the thing to show up. Dean walks Michael through the plan, telling him to stay under the covers in the bed. When the shtriga comes, they’ll enter with guns, whereupon, Michael should get under the bed. Dean even warns Michael that the gunfire will be very loud in the enclosed space. Nervously, Michael takes it all in, but remains willing, despite Dean giving him a chance to back out.

Around three am, Sam apologises to Dean for being so hard on him for always obeying John. Dean’s response is to roll his eyes and groan at the chickflick moment (What, you were expecting a hug and a slowdance?). Fortunately for Dean, the shtriga shows up. Dean spots its shadow on the curtains, just as it opens the window. Inside the room, it’s all Michael can do not to flee. In the other room, the brothers get out their guns, taking off the safeties. Sam wants to go right in, but Dean insists they wait, even as the shtriga approaches a shivering Michael and the screen fuzzes and flickers, while the wind blows outside. I gotta say – that is one brave little kid!

As the creature opens its glowing mouth and starts to feed, the brothers bust in. They shoot up the shtriga, knocking it down, and Dean calls to Michael, who is safe under the bed. But when Dean goes to check on the monster, it gets up and tosses Dean across the room, knocking him out. Before Sam can get off a shot, it also grabs him and throws him into a wall. Then it lands on him and starts sucking out his lifeforce before he can get Dean’s gun, which is just out of reach. At that moment, Dean yells at the thing and, when it looks up, shoots it in the head. He then asks Sam if he’s all right. The dying shtriga starts to disgorge all the spiritus vitae it’s eaten over the years, in individual little whisps. Dean puts a few more rounds into it for good measure, anyway, and it sinks into the carpet. With a shaking voice, Dean tells Michael it’s safe to come out, so Michael does so, looking relieved.

The next morning, Michael’s mom comes home with good news – Asher is much better, as are all the other kids. They should make a full recovery. Dr. Heidacker? Strangely enough, he didn’t show up for work. After she and Michael leave, Sam tries to find the dark cloud behind every silver lining and bemoans the fact that Michael will now always know there are evil things in the dark. How he wishes he could have the innocence of not knowing that (because that sure did those other little kids so much good!). As Ozzy Osbourne’s “Road to Nowhere” starts up, Dean says he wishes Sam could have that, too. And off they go in the hot muscle car.

Review: You’d think I’d have jumped on reviewing “Something Wicked”, since I like Dean and I like stories that delve into Dean’s issues. And it is a well-constructed, well-regarded episode, is “Something Wicked”, with much to recommend it. But I’ve actually avoided this one for a long time for two reasons. First, I like Jeffrey Dean Morgan and I even like Matt Cohen, but I can’t stand John Winchester. Young John was whiny and weak. Hunter John was, there’s no better way to say it, an abusive scumbag. Every time I see a fan apologia for the character, I am appalled at the level of insensitivity displayed toward real adult survivors of abuse in the justifications for this fictional character, particularly the nonsensical argument that abusive parents don’t love their kids, therefore, if John loved his kids, he couldn’t have been abusive. I’m sorry, but that is a false cognate and a mean one, too. Abusive parents very often love their kids a lot. But love does not conquer all when it comes to shitty parenting.

This episode alone (and that’s not even getting into ones like “Dead Man’s Blood”) amply demonstrates that John’s horrendous parenting not only tiptoed through the tulips, but stomped right through the nasties into abusive territory, long before we got into the stupidities surrounding the Third Winchester, Adam. There is no excuse for leaving your kids alone in a grotty motel room for days on end while you go off hunting monsters that threaten other people’s children. Your responsibility begins at home. Take care of it there, first. Abandoning your own children (at least, as far as they and the audience can tell) because you are actively using them as bait is simply unforgivable. And blaming your eldest for choking in the breach because you weren’t there to do your damned job (and, hel-lo, that job wasn’t hunting), to the point where you rub his face in it as an adult by sending him to hunt the thing you failed to kill decades before, is flat-out evil. Maybe it’s not the florid, detached, cartoonish kind of evil of demons, the kind that horror fans like to watch, but it’s still an evil that is as destructive in this show as anything YED on up to Lucifer ever did. And it happens to children every day. It’s just that the monsters aren’t characters in a fictional show.

I found that really uncomfortable to watch. I don’t care if that means it was well-acted. It was still uncomfortable. And no, the brothers using Michael as bait was not the same, because he knew what was happening, he knew the stakes (Hell, he volunteered), it didn’t go on for days, and he knew they were watching right outside the door. Nobody handed him a shotgun and told him to mind his brother all alone for three solid days, let alone got angry when he finally turned squirrelly and went out to play video games (unaware that he and his brother were being used as bait). He knew Dean and Sam were watching over him, and had his back.

Second is that the weeChesters scenes, as always, were incredibly sad. What a horrible, horrible childhood Dean had. Weirdly enough, Sam’s wasn’t that bad (relatively speaking). Sure, Sam whined a lot about its awfulness, but episodes like “Something Wicked” definitely show which brother took the brunt of the horribleness in protecting his younger brother. It wasn’t Sam.

One incident that fairly leaps to mind is when weeDean wants to have some of that nice cereal, but weeSam (who has already had a boatload of it) whines about wanting more of it until Dean gives in and lets him have it all. But we’re supposed to have our hearts gladdened by weeSam giving weeDean the prize from the box. Because that totally makes up for the fact that weeDean doesn’t get any food, or gets whatever crap left over that weeSam decides he doesn’t want. This image of an isolated and parentalised nine-year-old, hopeless and overwhelmed, already trudging through a life in which he gets to serve others on an endless treadmill of partially-internalised martyrdom, and the five-year-old brother he is already helping his absentee daddy raise into one colossally spoiled brat, is depressing as hell. When you want to bitchslap a five-year-old unconscious, just for being only as self-centred as many five-year-olds are, you know you’re looking at a very disturbing and unhealthy situation. You know it’s not the five-year-old’s fault, but that doesn’t make the brat any less annoying.

If you’re looking for an argument for Dean being a remarkable human being, here’s one in that he was able to sublimate this horrific childhood well enough that he didn’t turn into a serial killer (of humans) and even eventually learned to modulate his hunting of murderous non-humans. This is a guy who grew up to expand that generosity toward his brother to include others beyond his family and preserve a remarkable amount of empathy (which, it must be said, his father never showed much of and his brother selectively demonstrated or even faked). That’s pretty amazing. But to have to sit there and watch that origin story makes me cringe in sympathy for the poor guy.

What’s especially sad is that Adult Sam actually comes across very well here. Sure, at the end, we get the usual comparison of his wishing he could have had more childhood innocence and Dean wishing Sam could, too (implying that Dean not only can’t imagine having that innocence, he can’t even imagine wanting or deserving it). Even allowing that it’s a case of Dean getting the last word more than Sam thinking about nothing but himself, it’s an unpleasant callback to the whole cereal deal.

But on the flip side, we have Sam apologise to Dean, after he finally pries out of Dean the true story behind the shtriga and why John sent them on this hunt. Sam is sincere enough that Dean squirms at the unexpected sympathy and attention, muttering snarky lines like, “Kill me now.” That’s a good indication that Sam really means it and it puts Sam’s later anger toward John (especially in “In My Time of Dying”) in perspective. Yes, a lot of Sam’s anger is for his own (admittedly very messed up) lost childhood, which is not a bad thing, but a lot of it is genuinely on Dean’s behalf, too. There’s a part of Sam, a part that is front and centre here, that understands that John harmed Dean more, that maybe one could even say that YED harmed Dean the most out of all the Winchesters and Campbells.

Yes, Sam was manipulated all his life, but that’s not the same as suffering. John’s wounds were largely self-inflicted. Mary set up a lot of her own fate (and inflicted it on her children). And her parents died quickly. In “Something Wicked”, through Sam’s eyes, we get a measure of the carnage inflicted on this family in how Dean comes across during the hunt. There are times when Dean is frighteningly intense and others (especially when he is talking about the past) when he seems like a zombie, so emotionally scorched into blunted affect that he talks about that terrible first hunt when he was nine in an eerie monotone. Sam is weirded out and he should be, because it’s very disturbing. Writers of season seven, this is what PTSD really looks like and you should know that because that’s how Dean still frequently acts.

Let’s move on to the MOTW. It was an interesting approach. The traditional strigoi, a legendary figure from Romania (that is more powerful, but also more vulnerable, than Supernatural‘s version), has the appearance of an old woman, so it’s a negative stereotype of a kind of inhuman (vampiric) witch, not unlike the Caribbean soucoyant. The real-life analogy (Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy) also usually strikes in women, since women are the ones usually found in a caretaker role. The potential for misogyny in this storyline is really high, since allegations of witchcraft among traditionally female caretakers often reflect fears by male medical authorities of losing power and authority.

It’s therefore a very intriguing twist that the shtriga is not female (if it could be said to have any gender) in its human form. Instead, it takes the form of a man and, further, a doctor – a traditional male authority figure in medicine. So, the original fears on which this supernatural figure is based are subverted, even inverted.

In fact, there’s a wickedly funny (and very dark, both in lighting and humour) scene halfway through when the brothers are convinced an elderly woman in a room with an inverted crucifix on her wall is the witch. When Dean inadvertently wakes her up, yelling (to which he reacts with a hair-teeth-and-eyeballs recoil straight out of an old Warner Brothers cartoon), we discover she is totally innocent (albeit crabby) and that she has been trying to get someone to fix her crucifix on the wall all day. It was upside because it had been somehow spun around. With a quick spin and a bemused shrug, Dean fixes the problem.

More amusement is generated by Sam’s teasing of Dean about having nearly blown away an old woman, just because she looked creepy, as well as of the scare she put into Dean. Dean responds with his usual grumpy insistence that he wasn’t scared, oh, no, just startled. This brings up an interesting idea that all of Sam’s childhood fears are pretty normal and seem to be based on the mundane (even the clowns), while two out of three of Dean’s greatest childhood fears (of losing his family and of the shtriga) are based on very real, ugly and supernatural events. Dean’s fears of the supernatural have been brutally confirmed for him (“Of course you should be afraid of the dark! You know what’s out there!”) as opposed to childish fears of the unknown. As for his fear of flying and heights, that can probably be ascribed to a general fear of losing control.

All psychobabble aside, the shtriga is just plain scary as hell. This thing that comes to you in your bed at night, that sucks out your lifeforce, that can only be killed by a certain type of weapon at a very specific and dangerous moment (when it’s feeding), that’s a very scary thought. We don’t know its origin or how long it’s really been killing (though we know it’s been at least a century). Even after the brothers kill it and it sinks into vapour, we’re left to wonder if it really died or pulled a trick and floated off to some other, less-strenuous feeding ground. And what did happen to those souls or lifeforces that it released when it was killed? Yikes, what a thought.

Fun lines:

Dean: Well, the waitress thinks the local Freemasons are up to something sneaky, but other than that, nobody’s heard about anything weird going on.

Sam: Dude, I am not using this ID.
Dean:
Why not?
Sam: Because it says “bikini inspector” on it!

Old Woman: I was sleepin’ with my peepers open! And fix that crucifix, wouldja? I’ve only asked four damned times, already!

Sam: I’m surprised you didn’t draw on [Dr. Heidacker] right there.
Dean: Yeah well, first of all, I’m not going to open fire in a pediatrics ward.
Sam: Good call.
Dean: Second, it wouldn’t have done any good. The bastard’s bulletproof unless he’s chowing down on something. And third, I wasn’t packing, which is probably a good thing ’cause I probably would have burned a clip in him on principle, alone.
Sam: You’re getting wise in your old age, Dean.

Sam: Hey, Dean, I’m sorry.
Dean: For what?
Sam: You know. I’ve really given you a lot of crap for always following Dad’s orders. But I know why you do it.
Dean [sarcastically]: Oh, God. Kill me now.

Next Week: The Benders: Sam is kidnapped without a trace, leaving an increasingly frantic Dean to rely on a very unlikely ally to find him.

On February 3: The Slice Girls: Dean has a one-night stand, which leads to a monster pregnancy (not his) with terrifying consequences.

You can watch (or download) this episode, in standard or HD definition, on Amazon.com.

About Paula R. Stiles

Paula is not at all paranoid about government conspiracies after six years in EMS, two years in Africa for the Peace Corps, a few summers with the Park Service, and ten years studying the Knights Templar. She's seen governments in action. They couldn't cover up a toy picnic table, let alone evidence of alien visitation. Writes about science for fun, history for money, and zombies for the company. You can read her sober-as-a-judge book about Templars in medieval Spain, Templar Convivencia, on Amazon. You can find her homepage at: http://thesnowleopard.net.

Paula R. StilesRetro Recap and Review: Supernatural 1.18: Something Wicked

14 Comments on “Retro Recap and Review: Supernatural 1.18: Something Wicked”

  1. shamangrrl

    You know, I never got the impression that John was using the boys as bait. I got the distinct impression that the Shtriga knew it was being hunted, and decided to turn things around on the Hunter and teach him a lesson. Of course, I couldn’t believe that John didn’t leave the boys with Jim to begin with, but everything else, I agree with you 100%. This episode tears my heart out each and every time I watch it. It also annoys me, with regard to Sam. I *liked* Sam in this episode, and watching him come to realize that he really didn’t know his brother, that his brother was very different from what he always thought, was great. But that epiphany didn’t stick, just as most of Sam’s other epiphanies don’t seem to stick. And I blame that on the writers. I like it when characters show growth, when they change and develop. Sometimes that development is toward the better, sometimes it’s toward the worse. This was growth toward the better, and it was also the beginning of the writers pulling the rug out from under Sam.

  2. Ginger

    Wow, Paula. This is probably the best reviews you’ve ever done. You have so much more insight into Dean and Sam than I ever got from this episode, and I really liked this one.

    I particularly liked your insight into Sam here, like his anger towards John being genuinely partly on Dean’s behalf also. There were also a few other scenes in later episodes that touched on this theme, even if it was way too late to show Sam anything other than a self-centered, egotistical brat that they went on to build up.

    On the other hand, after I read this review, S6 just ticked me off all over again. How could they possibly put this Dean with Lisa and make it look like he was madly in love with her, worked a normal job just fine, played with the kid, had a good time with the neighbors, and was just grieving hard over Sam, until Sam graciously showed back up again is beyond me. And then, he did not leave for Sam, and he did not leave because he realized he was a hunter. No, he wanted that normal life, but he left because he put the love of his life and the kid he always wanted to be his in danger. God, I hate that season.

    Anyway, terrific review. I love these. Can’t wait until all the seasons episodes are filled in.

  3. crowley_gal

    Thanks for the review Paula. As always, I enjoy reading your thought on Dean’s mental status.

    I’m agree with you about John. I think its obvious he was both neglectful and emotionally abusive. My apologies if you already covered this but I’m slowly catching up on your reviews and I’m curious if you think John was physically abusive toward Dean. Unless the show does a retconn we know from the end of Nightmare that John was not physically abusive toward Sam, but Dean’s look and his all things considered response, plus what we learned in Darkside of the moon when it looked like Dean physically recoiled when he mentioned John coming home to find Sam gone, makes me wonder if John physically hit Dean. I’ve had this discussion with others and gotten mixed responses. I’m wondering how you view it.

  4. Marisol

    Hi Paula,

    I love your retro reviews! You are always so insightful, and it is great to go back and read these reviews knowing what we know now about the characters.

    John was an ass in this one, his behavior towards Dean unforgivable. Poor wee and present Dean, it was a miracle he came out as well as he did. And Sam, what a spoiled, selfish little kid, though Dean going without and being abused by his father, did make Sam look worse than he probably was. That Sam grew up still showing much of that selfishness never helped his character. Sam is so good when he is worried about and caring his brother. Funny, when Sam does that caring thing, it makes his character stronger, but when Dean is focused on Sam, he loses his edge and becomes weaker.

    Thanks for the review — I am looking forward to next weeks!

  5. Heather S. Vina

    Yay, you reviewed it! And now I understand how much you really do hate John, LOL!

    I had never actually thought of John using the kids as bait, but after I saw it remarked on on a message board back when I was catching up with the show back in season 1, I began to wonder. Looking on it, and putting all of the facts together, it does seem as if he did. Because there’s no way he could have been there that quickly, and stopped the Shritga, unless he was watching the room. And the only reason he would be watching it, would be because he was waiting for the thing to attack. And that is just hateful, hateful, hateful. There is no excuse for using your own children as bait like this. They didn’t know, they weren’t prepared, and even if they were, Sam at 5 was way too young to be used as bait. Dean at 9 was pushing it, but at least he could be semi aware like Michael, if he had been prepared.

    What I love about this episode is that it shows again, how much of a better man and a better hunter Dean is compared to John. Dean comforted Michael, he gave him all of the facts, he told him it wasn’t his fault about Asher, he gave Michael the option to backout and he kept his promise to Michael to back him up and stop the monster. That is the Righteous Man, and that Righteous Man was never John Winchester.

    I never thought about the fact that John never talked to Dean about it again, and didn’t write it down in his journal, as being an indicator of guilt. But that makes sense. It almost makes him look worse to me, because once again, all he cared about was how HE felt, and not the wellbeing of his child. Which is par for the course with him, of course.

    Dean’s childhood was a horrible, horrible place. Once his mom died, Dean was completely screwed. It is pretty amazing that he actually turned out to be the most empathetic and morally certain member of the family, considering he was the one who was the most psychologically and emotionally stunted from his upbringing!

    Great review, Paula, as always! Thank you for sharing!

    @crowley_gal: I always figured John had been physically abusive with Dean. Not on a regular basis, but we saw how John was manhandling Sam in “Dead Man’s Blood,” and there’s no way that Dean would have allowed that to happen with Sam when they were younger. I can definitely see an out of control John – either drunk or raging – getting violent and Dean stepping in between John and Sam, or being the “safety” outlet for John’s abuse. I just don’t think with the John that we saw, that it didn’t happen at least a few times. Between the drinking and the temper, it definitely would have.

  6. Ann Emmess

    I’ve always liked the way they write Dean as a WeeChester, angst and all. Especially in these early days it has a tremendous effect on how he developed overall. Dean as a child has astonishing deep-down-good qualities, and I like that they’ve never written against the grain there. (Even in the pilot, WeeDean whispering “S’gonn be OK, Sam” as he runs turns out to be something he did to console every. single. member. of the family when they needed him. It would be healthier for Dean if we saw him flash a little self-concern from time to time, of course, but if they do nothing else the Wee moments bolster that Dean’s always been like this, which bolsters that Dean really is that sincere about helping people in the present day.

    In this ep — I don’t necessarily find the whole progression believable overall, but the moment that’s always brought me short is Sam finding the prize in the very last serving in a box of kid’s cereal. With two kids competing for it, the very idea that the prize would remain pristine, un-touched and un-dug-out for that long…it strained my disbelief to the breaking point and threw me right out of the story. You’d think the writers would do their research.

  7. Lily

    @Paula: There is a strong subtext in this story (though it’s never stated outright) that Dean has read the situation wrong. That John used his kids as bait and was ashamed of it. That it freaked him out how close he came to losing his youngest and the position in which he had put his eldest. … John’s head was so far up his own ass that it seems to have never occurred to him to sit Dean down and tell him it wasn’t his fault (until, of course, he was about to die and leave Dean with an even more horrible secret!). Because it wasn’t. It was John’s.
    So True!
    Something Wicked is one of my favorite episodes because it highlighted how damaged Dean was as a child. Adult Dean is still feeling guilty over something that was not in his control and it still clearly eats away at him knowing others could have been hurt by a mistake he thinks he made when he was a child. I can’t tell you how angry I get when I see John glaring at Dean for something he should have been there to take care of himself. The fact that Dean thinks John never looked at him the same is truly painful because you know how bad a father he truly was to his two sons.
    This episode is a prime example of why I never believed John was the righteous man Alastair claimed he was in the episode On the Head of a Pin. John was never selfless in his quest against the YED or the war against evil in general. It was always fueled by hate and revenge and it is one of the prime reasons he and Sam were never Heavens Might Sword. Dean was always motivated by doing what is a right and helping others even when he would most often end up on the short end of the deal.
    The Lucky Charms is always a heartbreaking moment. Sam is five so I won’t be too hard on him, but John is the bad guy here. Although, I have to admit, it never occurred to me that John used his sons as bait. I don’t think even Dean did. It wasn’t until the episode Dream a Little Dream of Me that Dean acknowledged his father weakness and the fact that he was an obsessed bastard who couldn’t protect his family. So it makes me wonder if Dean includes the strigoi in his vilification of John.
    Thank you for the great recap! As always I learn something new about an episode I have watched many times.

  8. Sunny

    (“John was never selfless in his quest against the YED or the war against evil in general. It was always fueled by hate and revenge and it is one of the prime reasons he and Sam were never Heavens Might Sword. Dean was always motivated by doing what is a right and helping others even when he would most often end up on the short end of the deal.”)

    @Lily it also makes the Adam as the Michael sword thing even more stupid lol.

    Great review, Paula. I too have always felt bad for weeDean in this episode and all of the emotional weight that he has to carry on his little shoulders. He’s been interalizing since he was a child and no one has noticed because he’s hid it and they’ve been too focused on other things. It’s episodes like this and remembering all that Dean has been through that makes me hate S6 even more. Dean has never really had anything that was his own and the one time he honestly did the writers saw fit to take it away and have it betray Dean when really there was no need. Sure Castiel wasn’t perfect and did bad things while listening to the other angels but I still believe he cared about Dean in a way others just didn’t.

    I have to say I love how deeply you see into the character of Dean. You really make me love him even more if that’s possible.

    Also I agree about Sam. In the past even though he was a brat most times I still believed he cared about Dean. I’m sure if John had been more of a parent Sam wouldn’t have lashed out at Dean as much as he did because he wouldn’t have seen Dean as a sort of parental figure either.

  9. Paula R. Stiles

    Thanks, guys!

    @shamangrrl
    It’s certainly possible that John did not intentionally expose his sons to the shtriga. However, that would make him look criminally stupid because how could he possibly think it was safe to bring two young children on a hunt to the same town as a child-hunting monster, especially one as dangerous as the shtriga? And while John’s reputation as a superhunter has taken some hits in past seasons, he was portrayed as at the top of his field in season one. I could see him being ruthless, but not dumb on the level of Garth.

    But either way, it shows him making a critical error in judgement.

    @Ginger
    The domestic storyline did not make a whole lot of sense to me, either. In fact, anything that makes Dean out to be “normal” and Sam to be a “freak” doesn’t work for me. It’s always Tell that contradicts the Show that Dean is the freak and Sam the normal one who doth protest a bit too much. True outcasts don’t get off on being outsiders nearly as much as Sam does because the real thing really isn’t that much fun.

    Besides, you’d have thought Sam would have gotten over all that after “Swap Meat”, but I guess not.

    @crowley_gal
    I do talk about the possibility of physical abuse in “Dark Side of the Moon” and I’m inclined to think that John was. For one thing, Dean is a very violent person, yet his mother wasn’t and there’s no indication John was before the fire. So, where did it come from? Similarly, we see that the brothers and their father are very physical in their confrontations, which is quite common in households where physical abuse is common. Sam is more willing to engage with John, while Dean almost cringes when John yells at him, which would tend to indicate that Dean took the brunt. Sure, men like to roughhouse, but not like that.

    Do I think John hit Dean regularly or beat him to a pulp? No. But I’d be very surprised if John had never backhanded Dean or otherwise physically terrified him. The thing with physical abuse is that it goes hand in hand with other kinds of abuse that are actually far more destructive. There are plenty of older people who will tell you that they got their backsides tanned now and again and didn’t suffer for it. That’s because their parents were consistent and reasonably restrained with it, and showed love in other ways. John, on the other hand, was a drunk (and yes, that was indicated from the pilot onward) who was on a rage-filled quest for revenge that alienated from almost all of his friends and had him killing things that looked human. No way would someone like that hold back for 22 years from smacking one of his kids when they crossed him.

    @Marisol
    In Sam’s defense, John clearly divided and conquered, manipulating his sons against each other. He was *very* surprised when they stood up to him together late in season one and not pleased at all. That tells you a whole lot about the mind games he employed against them to keep them at each other’s throats and not questioning him. In such an atmosphere, it’s really not Sam’s fault that he came out of that feeling a little selfish and put-upon. Sam’s fault was in not growing more than a certain point beyond that after season two.

    @Heather
    Yes, the signs do seem to add up that he was using them as bait (not that taking them into danger like that without telling them was any better). I think the episode was intended to show both Dean *and* Sam as better than John, with Dean being much gentler and more humane with Michael (and, in the end, more effective) and Sam being man enough to apologise and learn something about Dean’s past. Both of those things were as far beyond John as landing on the Moon.

    @Ann Emmess
    That’s a good point. When I was a kid, that prize always came out first!

    I also found it weird that they had Dean dump out the Spaghettios when they were apparently running out of food and had been on the road for five years.

    @Lily
    I do wonder if Dean was venting about the shtriga, among other things, in DalDoM, too. He’s certainly become very bitter about John and you could see how much he struggled in his dealings with Ben not to be like John. I didn’t really think he was (If anything, I didn’t much care for the way Lisa kept undercutting his authority with Ben; if you’re living with a guy like that, you should be supporting him as your kid’s father figure to any reasonable extent, not cutting him off at the knees all the time in front of your kid. Ben was a real mama’s boy), but abused children are always terrified they’ll turn out like their parents, as if there’s some bad seed inside them that will sprout and grow, some switch that will flip, if they have children.

    @Sunny
    While I’ve been fairly even-minded about Castiel leaving (mostly because I figured he’d be back soon enough), I do agree that it’s sad how they ruined the one good non-familial friendship Dean had in Castiel. Not that I’m too excited about the hatchet job they did on Lisa, either. I hope that returns by the end of this season. Castiel, I mean. Lisa’s gone for the foreseeable future.

  10. Deenort

    Great review, as always. It never really occurred to me before reading this review that John used the boys as bait, but it does make a whole lot of sense. I used to think that John sent the coordinates to Sam & Dean so that they could take care of unfinished business and assuage (a) the guilt he knew that Dean felt for leaving Sam alone and in danger (even though Dean didn’t realise the danger) and (b) John’s own guilt for how the situation turned out. However, the more I’ve learned about John, the more I’ve come to realise that relieving Dean’s burden would be the least of his intentions. Why bother making your son feel better about something that wasn’t his fault when there’s an old job to complete? If John operated under the “saving people, hunting things” motto, he didn’t stretch the “saving people” part to include Dean.
    That said, this is an episode that I like a lot, mostly because of Dean and his innate humanity despite the life he has endured. Sam showing compassion towards his brother was also a nice touch, something I’d like to see more of, and the humour definitely helped lift some of the bleakness.

  11. Arafel

    This was a terrific review, Paula, and I have to agree with one of the previous commenters-it may be one of your best.
    This episode is one of my all-time favorites because, for me, it has always been the best reflector of how the differences in the child hood experiences of Dean and Sam, and their interactions with their father, shaped and molded them into the men that they eventually grew in to. And yes, I couldn’t agree more, the damage that was inflicted upon Dean(both as child AND as an adult) in this one was so hard and uncomfortable to watch, but it was also what cemented him forever, to me, as the truest and greatest hero of this story. And I don’t think Kripke intended or foresaw this, but it happened anyway. Kim Manners perhaps picked up on it from Dead in the Water and possibly Raelle Tucker and John Shiban-oh, how I miss all of them…

    “How anyone – anyone – could like this character, and not think he was an absolute prick and an abusive father is beyond me. I don’t care how sexy Jeffrey Dean Morgan looks in a leather jacket. John not only knowingly puts his children in extreme peril, he then blames his eldest when the plan goes completely sideways! Is there really any moral grey here? Because I’m not seeing it. Only a year in Hell? He got off easy.”

    Heh. He was never meant to be a smpathetic character, IMO, and this one was the one where I realized that and Dead Man’s Blood and Salvation reinforced that fully for me. He didn’t even call in Faith when his own son lay dying, and he had no rebuttal for it whatsoever when Dean called him on it in Salvation. The hunt came first for John in every way, IMO, in spite of his protestations to the contrary with Sam in Dead Man’s Blood; and the capper came in IMTOD, when even as he realized all of his previous mistakes, he still made the greatest one of all, and only continued damaging his eldest, by again refusing to take up the mantle of his first duty and responsibility as a parent-to be there for our children in life; and by foisting it off on Dean yet again-his not being able to let go and allow Dean to move on in a natural order kind of way, only set Dean up, yet again, through guilt, first and foremost, but also through Dean’s innate sense of responsibility, honor, and duty to the family-to make the same mistake with Sam, only with much more dire consequences-both for his sons and for all of humanity.

    “Back in the present, Dean finishes the story. John grabbed the two of them and fled to Pastor Jim’s, where he dropped them off (which is what he should have done in the first place) and went back to finish the botched job. But the shtriga had already fled. Dean says they never talked about it again, but John always “looked at me different,” which humiliated Dean and made him feel even more guilty. In his eyes, he had disobeyed his father and nearly gotten his brother killed. Hence his rigid obedience to John now. He figures that their father sent him this job because it was “unfinished business”.”

    How else would or could Dean feel? And IA that John, at that point in time, DID indeed blame Dean for the failed hunt. It is sadly unfathomable how blind the man was.

    “There is a strong subtext in this story (though it’s never stated outright) that Dean has read the situation wrong. That John used his kids as bait and was ashamed of it. That it freaked him out how close he came to losing his youngest and the position in which he had put his eldest. This would explain the flash of anger at weeDean, the trip to Pastor Jim’s, the utter silence about it afterward, even down to not putting it in his journal (because it wasn’t his finest hour by any stretch). Is this a mitigating circumstance for John? No. Lots of abusive parents feel badly about what they’re doing, but they do it, anyway. And the most abusive thing is their refusal to admit it, to do anything to repair the damage they inflict on their child. John’s head was so far up his own ass that it seems to have never occurred to him to sit Dean down and tell him it wasn’t his fault (unthorrible secret!). Because it wasn’t. It was John’s.”

    I love this. So much. I admit that it never crossed my mind that he’d used them as bait. I guess I could just never wrap my head around the thought that he’d go that far and I’m still not convinced beyond a shadow of a doubt that the authorial intent was that he did-my feeling being that they had him show up in the nick of time, completely coincidentally, because he was “due” back then. I think there was even a reference to it earlier in the episode. Still, you could be right because it WAS a piss poor excuse, any way you look at it, for leaving your 2 young children alone with a monster on the loose in the town, that oh, btw, yes, preys on siblings.

    “This image of an isolated and parentalised nine-year-old, hopeless and overwhelmed, already trudging through a life in which he gets to serve others on an endless treadmill of partially-internalised martyrdom, and the five-year-old brother he is already helping his absentee daddy raise into one colossally spoiled brat, is depressing as hell. When you want to bitchslap a five-year-old unconscious, just for being only as self-centred as many five-year-olds are, you know you’re looking at a very disturbing and unhealthy situation. You know it’s not the five-year-old’s fault, but that doesn’t make the brat any less annoying.”

    HA! I honestly didn’t want to slap Sam, but MAN! did I ever feel for Dean in this one.

    “If you’re looking for an argument for Dean being a remarkable human being, here’s one in that he was able to sublimate this horrific childhood well enough that he didn’t turn into a serial killer (of humans) and even eventually learned to modulate his hunting of murderous non-humans. This is a guy who grew up to expand that generosity toward his brother to include others beyond his family and preserve a remarkable amount of empathy (which, it must be said, his father never showed much of and his brother selectively demonstrated or even faked). That’s pretty amazing. But to have to sit there and watch that origin story makes me cringe in sympathy for the poor guy.”

    It has always amazed me that I never felt resentment for Sam from Dean-only love of the parental type-and this makes me mist up a little while I’m typing this…

    “What’s especially sad is that Adult Sam actually comes across very well here. Sure, at the end, we get the usual comparison of his wishing he could have had more childhood innocence and Dean wishing Sam could, too (implying that Dean not only can’t imagine having that innocence, he can’t even imagine wanting or deserving it).”

    It doesn’t matter how many times I re-watch this one, I always mist up at that end scene because the feeling is plain to me that Dean didn’t even know HOW to think of himself, in any way, because of his having been parentified to such an extent as a child. So friggin’ sad.

    “There’s a part of Sam, a part that is front and centre here, that understands that John harmed Dean more, that maybe one could even say that YED harmed Dean the most out of all the Winchesters and Campbells.”

    “through Sam’s eyes, we get a measure of the carnage inflicted on this family in how Dean comes across during the hunt. There are times when Dean is frighteningly intense and others (especially when he is talking about the past) when he seems like a zombie, so emotionally scorched into blunted affect that he talks about that terrible first hunt when he was nine in an eerie monotone. Sam is weirded out and he should be, because it’s very disturbing.”

    I really think that if the showrunner truly wants to bring back sympathy for the Sam character that was lost after S4, she should focus more on this type of stuff, as they did early on, because THIS!, IMO, was the stuff that the brother bond was best built on.

    Thanks for this stroll down memory lane, Paula. It was great.

  12. Paula R. Stiles

    Thanks again!

    @Deenort
    I don’t think we ever saw any evidence that John was into saving people. I think that was something Dean came up with and attributed to John as the ultimate authority in the family. There’s never anything said about the entries in John’s journal or said in the episodes with John, or that involve John, where it seems he was much into saving people. The only one close to that was “Jumping the Shark” where he seemed quite happy to screw a grateful damsel, then screwed up the hunt, and got both her and their son killed horribly. The only “evidence” of that is Dean’s conviction that this is the Family Business. I think it’s a Dean motto not a John one.

    @Arafel
    I agree that John is well-drawn if he’s intended not to be sympathetic. In fact, I think both he and Mary make great villains. John reminds me a bit of Regina in “Once Upon a Time”, in that she wants Henry to love her and her great tragedy is that he never will. But on the other hand, she’s such an evil bitch that she really deserves not to be loved. I’m not sure that Regina would ever sacrifice herself for Henry the way that John does for Dean, but considering the way John uses his death as yet another way to maneuver Dean against YED, maybe that’s something Regina *would* do, if it were a way to take down Snow White. Too bad Dean wasn’t the pawn John thought he was.

  13. angelina

    I know I’m a little late to the party on this one, but I’m really curious about something, Paula–Do you feel either John or Sam have any positive attributes?

    1. Paula R. Stiles

      @angelina
      I’m quite sure I wrote that Adult Sam is very sympathetic in this one, so where do you get the idea that I wouldn’t think Sam has any positive attributes?

      As for John, fans have been complaining for quite some time that the show writes him as pretty useless. I’m just pointing out that he was being written useless even in season one, when JDM was playing him. It’s just that JDM managed to make him seem tragic and charismatic, in spite of that. But the writers certainly didn’t try to give him any depth.

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