Supernatural Re-watch, S1E3: Dead in the Water

Third episode of season one, original air date, September 27, 2005.

Synopsis:

In Lake Manitoc, Wisconsin (the inevitable temperate rainforests of Wisconsin), we get a fairly gratuitous Jaws reference in the underwater shots of champion swimmer Sophie Carlton, before she’s snatched under the water and disappears.  Fade to black, and find Dean going through the obits hunting for weirdness.  A Penthouse-Forum version of a waitress hands over the bill to the boys, then wiggles away so she can be objectified by Dean.  He even explicitly calls her “that”.  Way to go, Dean.

Turns out the dead woman’s the third drowning victim this year in the lake, none of whose bodies were found.

Off to Wisconsin, where Agents Ford and Hamill show up to investigate the disappearance.  The local plod says they swept the lake with dragging and sonar, and found nothing.  Also, the lake’s going away soon, because the dam’s leaking.

Dean tries some crappy pick-up stuff on the sherriff’s daughter: turns out she’s a widow, whose husband also died in the lake recently.  Her kid doesn’t talk.  He was stuck on a float for two hours after his father disappeared.

Sam doesn’t think it’s a lake monster, despite several more unexplained disappearance/deaths.  Discovering the truth about Lucas’ father, they track him down, and Dean tries to engage the boy without much apparent success, despite their both having lost parents horribly.  When he goes back to talk to the mother, Lucas wordlessly hands Dean a picture he’s drawn, of a house in the town.

Sophie’s father is gripped by melancholy.  Her brother, cleaning fish, sees the work sink back up with filthy water.  Rolling up a sleeve to check the problem, he is dragged into the sink and drowned, before the water drains quietly away again.  Dad’s not going to like this.

The boys figure out that whatever’s killing is going fast because the lake is emptying, and that it can reach anywhere on the town water system.  Bracing the dad, they find him in a deeply painful contemplation.

Dean spots the house that Lucas drew, in which they discover that a child drowned in the lake many years back, a bullied kid, used to live.  Realising the dead kid was a friend of Bill Carlton (Sophie’s father), they return, to find him setting out on the lake in a small boat.  He hears them calling him back, but carries on, until the boat explodes into the air, then disappears under the surface with him.

The sherriff is skeptical of their story, having determined that they’re not really federal wildlife agents as claimed, and runs them out of town.  Naturally, they know better, and come back into town, arriving at Andrea and Lucas’ place just in time to save her from her bathtub.

She says a voice was telling her “come play with me” – Dean discovers that the drowned kid from way back was in the same scout troop with her father and Bill Carlton.

While they talk about it, Lucas walks to a spot in the yard, and the boys find a rusted old bicycle in the ground.  While they’re excavating, the sherriff returns, and is a very unhappy camper indeed to discover them doing this.  The boys guess, apparently accurately, that the sherriff and Bill Carlton killed the dead boy, and that his spirit has been murdering everyone he loves.

The tricky bit is, the two didn’t bury the kid: they just let his body drift off into the lake.  That’s going to make the whole salt-and-burn routine hard to do.  The sherriff confesses that they killed him while bullying him, drowning him accidentally while torturing him.

They turn around from their discussion to see Lucas at water’s edge, reaching down to the dark water for a plastic army man that fell in.  He’s grabbed and pulled in by a dark greenish figure, which surfaces just enough to give the sherriff a baleful look, then submerges again.  Dean and Sam hunt frantically under the water, and the sherriff comes up with his own solution: begging forgiveness, he pleads for the return of Lucas, offering himself, and being dragged away into the inky depths.

Dean then pops up with Lucas, whom they revive quickly.

Lucas and Andrea show up to see them off, giving them lunch for the road, before Lucas – now talking – goes to learn how to say “Zeppelin rules!” from Dean.  Sammy shows his sensitive side.

(cue guitars and credits)

Analysis:

There’s not a lot to criticize in this episode, because it’s a version of Wisconsin in which there are no POC, and again only one named and speaking woman (Andrea Barr – Peter Sweeney’s mother is never named).  Her character is basically the typical spunky single mom, almost exclusively expressed in the ways in which she looks after the men in her life: her husband, her father, her son, Dean and Sam, she’s an all-purpose mom for everyone.  Not what you might call the most enlightened approach.  The only other women in the episode are a waitress whom Dean totally objectifies, and various extras.

Given that there are literally no other marginalized people in the episode, there’s little to critique other than the near-absence of anyone who isn’t a hetero white man.

Conclusion:

Next episode is one of my least favourite overall, Phantom Traveller.  But we have to take the bad with the good, so onward we go, to episode 4 of season 1!

 S1E3: Dead in the Water: 2 Pentacles

2/5 – again, I’d like it better if I were a horror-movie fan.  The show’s not found its place as a TV show yet, rather than as a movie: the cinematography, lighting, everything is aimed at the horror-movie genre – the low-saturation filming and lighting style, the uneven acting, and the overall quietness of things just aren’t as exciting and fun to watch as the later shows are.  The pacing is still horror-movie slow, too, but a forty-minute format needs a lot tighter pacing than we’re getting here yet.  YMMV, as ever.  I’ll also enjoy it more when it’s not quite such a sausagefest: when episodes get up to having TWO women and/or POC who actually speak in the same episode…

Trivia:

Running total of innocents killed by the Boys: Still 0, arguably.  They don’t do very well in the saving people stakes this ep, though: pretty much the entire extended family Is wiped out, save for Andrea and Lucas.

Named women and/or POC (not already dead) who end up dead before the episode’s out: 1, Sophie Carlton.

Marginalized (named) body survival rate: 50%, ½ (Sophie dies, Andrea lives; no POC with lines in the episode at all)

Objectification by Dean: The waitress at the beginning; Andrea Barr, Lucas’ mother.  Also, by the camera, with both Andrea getting into her tub, and Sophie swimming at the beginning.  No such shots of men’s bodies are seen, despite the audience of the show being at least half women, and presumably at least a few non-hetero men, too.

Misogynist slurs: 0!  That doesn’t happen often.

Aliases used by the boys: Ford and Hamill, a reference (of course) to the actors who played Han Solo and Luke Skywalker.  This is a meta-ref, too, because these are the characters whom Kripke had explicitly in mind when he created Dean and Sam.

Hint o’ maple:  Not much, save for the (ahem) slightly improbable mountains of Wisconsin.

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8 thoughts on “Supernatural Re-watch, S1E3: Dead in the Water

  1. Who needs misogynist slurs when you have lines like; “That is fun!”?

    I was kind of blindsided by your comments on how the show was shot initially because, I guess, it never occurred to me that anyone who wasn’t at least somewhat a horror fan would start watching it. I cut my teeth on horror and Gothic, so for me the show has lost a lot of what drew me to it in the early seasons. I think Kim Manners was a master. He gave the show a consistent look and feel that not only reflected the horror aspects but also set Sam and Dean in the blue collar world. That has all been pretty much lost, with the guys wearing tailored suits half the time and hanging out in corporate offices. The over-saturated colors of the past couple of seasons — even in the supposedly skeezy motels they stay in — just don’t work for me. It’s become a comic book.

    The mountains of Wisconsin — LOL. Yeah, a lot of their U.S. locations are improbable. Such are the limitations of filming in mostly one location when the boys travel around so much.

    • Yeah, I freely admit it’s a weird thing to be a fan of a horror-monster series when I don’t watch horror films. I’d be more willing to watch horror films if they were more interested in being scary rather than just…disgusting/gross (I’m looking at you, Human Centipede/Saw series). I’ve watched a few Japanese and Korean horror films, where the focus is quite tightly on scary suspense and very little gore, and those I enjoy…somewhat, if I’m not alone, and I’m in a good brain space.

      Part of the problem is PTSD from a few different assaults I’ve suffered, too. I have nightmares most nights, and adding fuel to them is usually a bad idea. My insomnia is already debilitating enough! 🙂

      I do think Kim Manners was a terrific director, absolutely, but I’m not as convinced that the low-saturation look works on TV nearly as well as it does on a big screen, in part because of the different ways they produce their images (multi-coloured diode emitters or a CRT producing light vs. powerful bulb shining through image – one pushes light at you, the other is just watching what’s reflected off the screen). Watching early SPN on a projector works a whole lot better than on TV, IME, because of the different colour/brightness profile it brings. Alternately, turning down the bright/contrast on the TV, and turning out the lights. Since TV is often watched with at least some external light burning, the desaturated look just looks dim and washed-out, rather than atmospheric and creepy.

      YMMV, obviously. 🙂

  2. When I first watched the series (I stopped watching after season five), I found Dean very fun and charming. I’m a little horrified to revisit this now and see how much stuff I just blissfully accepted.

    • I know, it’s weird, isn’t it? And how much more confident both Jared and Jensen have become about their acting and their characters, it’s really amazing.

      Honestly, I’m just glad that going back isn’t souring me on the show. It’s happened before, where I used to love a show, and going back to it after a time away has meant being very disappointed in my younger self for liking something so…whatever. But I do love the interactions between the boys, even if I spend a lot of time yelling at Dean for being a huge hypocrite all the time. I may even start a Dean Hypocrisy Watch at some point, because it’s the thing I’m by far the most likely to yell at my TV.

      What? Doesn’t everyone yell at their TV? Is this another one of those reasons I’m kind of a misanthropic hermit now?

  3. Interesting Re: horror. I love scary movies, but I never say I like horror, because I just don’t want to see a lot of gore, and I cannot handle torture or body horror, nopenopenope, not gonna do it. I agree that the pacing in this episode seems a little…off. I sort of ended up feeling like I didn’t get to know the characters in the families enough to really get the payoff in the standard this-is-what-the-ghost-wants reveal.

    In no particular order:

    I was glad Dean got to show a little more emotion, in the scene with Lucas. I am choosing to interpret it at more support for the “Dean acts like this to cover insecurity” theory. Conversely, it bugged me a little that all of Lucas’s problems could be solved in one conversation with Dean. I get it, shared trauma, Dean understands and will believe where other adults wouldn’t. Just gives me a whiff of “snap out of it” I’m not totally sure about.

    I was relieved when it was Sam that pulled Andrea out of the tub, because the squeezing her naked on the floor part would have been very different with Dean, after all the hitting on her he did.

    These boys need some khakis if they are going to keep claiming to be park services.

    • LOL at the idea of Dean in khakis (we’ve seen Sam, of course, in What Is and What Should Never Be – I love that episode!). As if! “Dad hunted for 30 years, and he never wore khakis, so you can just shove that suggestion into your purse, Samantha!” Sound about right? 🙂

      I’m with you on Dean’s amazing power of connection with sad kids. I wonder if it’s at least partly because he spent a lot of time interacting with/caring for Sammy as a kid, that he developed good skills for doing so, maybe?

      And yes, OMG, Dean grabbing naked Andrea out of tub would be hella problematic, and he’d probably make a really inappropriate boner joke or something. AWWWWKWARD!

      I won’t – can’t – watch torture of any kind. Like, the episode of Firefly, War Stories, wherein Mal and Wash receive some unwanted attention, I never watch that episode. And while I enjoy Criminal Minds, there are several episodes of it having to do with torture/amputations and such, and I can’t watch those either. I suppose I physically could, but I don’t want it in my entertainment, any more than I want to watch someone be bullied relentlessly.

      There are episodes of SPN that have torture I can’t watch, for sure. There’s the Very Special Christmas episode, for instance, or all the times Dean was, y’know, hooked up to chains and screaming a lot in that one season that I’m trying not to spoil in any specific way. Hell, there were episodes of Heroes I couldn’t watch, nor even the Cheerleader’s amazing healing. *shudder* I’m kind of a wimp about that stuff, for Reasons.

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