1×14 “Nightmare”

Aaah, Labor Day. The day where those of us who hate the heat and have sun-incompatible complexions stay off the beach and away from pool decks, and stay instead tucked comfortably in our air-conditioned homes watching some good television.

Like Supernatural. (Me, biased?)

Nightmare is not one of my favorite episodes, and I honestly can’t put my finger on why. I like the episode teaser; I like seeing the return of Sam’s nightmares, and I love seeing that Dean is for the most part unquestioning. Sam tells him to get up and go, and they’re on the road. Sam tells him to drive faster, and Dean hits the gas. He may not understand, but he believes. And he trusts Sam, and that just gives me warm vibes.

Sam really kind of breaks my heart when they arrive at Saginaw and find out that they’re too late to prevent what Sam saw in his nightmare. Sam’s very broken up about it, and Dean’s trying to be reassuring while at the same time, worrying because Sam “looks like crap” because he hasn’t been sleeping or anything like that. He also gets a little… single-minded about this situation.

… oh yeah. This is the episode with Fathers Simmons and Frehley. (That would be Gene Simmons and Ace Frehley, from KISS.) Yeah, this is going to be one of those episodes that sends me to hell in a handbasket, because there’s never been a pair of priests that I wanted to defrock more than these two. Sam’s comment is, “this has to be a whole new low for us” is just as amusing as Dean’s answering smirk.

All lascivious jokes aside, the disguise of priest/preacher/pastor/rabbi/etc is one that I’m actually surprised they don’t use more often, considering how many deaths and grieving families they end up talking to. Being a priest automatically grants you a certain amount of trust in the eyes of most people, and most people will tell their priest things they wouldn’t tell anyone else because they’re looking for divine answers to something that is most certainly not divine.

As it’s not in this case, but we’ll get to that soon enough. The guise of junior priests from the local parish church allows them into the grieving family’s house, and the wife opens up easily to them; her dead husband has no history of depression, nothing that would explain why he would have killed himself, and it was their son who found him dead in the car.

I think here’s the problem; the kid doesn’t engage me. I like the mother just fine–it took me forever to realize it’s Aunt Zelda from Sabrina, The Teenage Witch, though–but the kid doesn’t engage me at all. I don’t care about him; I don’t know why. I haven’t been able to put my finger on it yet. When I do, I’ll let you know. But, without the empathy for the kid, the episode loses a whole lot in the translation.

I also think they could have done a better job drawing and filling out the empathy between him and Sam. I felt it on Jared Padalecki’s part, but on the kid–Brendan Fletcher, I think he was–I didn’t feel it at all. I tend to think that’s just the risk in having a guest actor; sometimes the chemistry works and you can run with it, and sometimes it doesn’t. It’s worked outstandingly well before; Jensen and the young boy in Dead In the Water, Sam and the teenage kid in Bugs, but this time it falls flat.

It’s actually a testment to how little I am captured by this episode when I keep getting distracted by pretty imagery. Like Dean cleaning his guns. But on the other hand, I get to notice the subtle things, like how Jared Padalecki is a damn good actor when he wants to be. He starts off the scene sounding just *irritated* that they haven’t found anything, and as they keep talking and the seconds tick off, he gets more and more agitated and you slowly realize something’s going on with Sammy. But it’s not until he rubs his head, and squeezes his eyes shut, that you think it might be the Shining. (And yes, I am officially stealing Dean’s name for it, because I want to be Dean when I grow up.)

Dean picks up on it the same time we do, we find out in the next moment that Sam is having a vision–not a nightmare, but a vision, because it’s happening when he’s awake! And it’s a vision of the dead man’s brother; something is going to kill him.

Part of it is the lighting, and part of it is Padalecki, but Sam shines in this moment. Flushed and passionate, dark eyes wide and wild, it seems as if they’re all pupil as he grabs Dean by the shoulders and tells him that it’s happening again, something’s going to murder the Miller man.

Out in the car, Dean worries about Sam in the only way he can; teasingly. Tells Sam that if he’s going to hurl, he can pull the car over so he doesn’t throw up on the upholstery. But the meaning is clear; Dean is worried about his brother. And moments later, Sam–again, thanks to Jared Padalecki, who just *nails* it yet again–sounds like the young boy he used to be when he tells Dean that he’s scared. Because now he’s seeing things when he’s awake and they’re getting more intense.

Sam fires off a series of questions at Dean; why me, why this family, why am I seeing things, etc, and they’re all questions that Dean doesn’t have an answer to. The only thing he can do is reassure Sam that they’re going to find out the answers, and that Sam is going to be okay. Somehow, I wouldn’t want to be the one crossing Dean to make Sam not-okay. But it’s in that moment that Sam challenges Dean to “tell me this doesn’t freak you out.” And after a long moment of consideration, Dean is actually able to say, “it doesn’t freak me out.” And he doesn’t take his eyes off the road or give any indication of uncertainty, because Sam is watching him in disbelief.

And thanks to Jensen Ackles’ body language, I think I figured it out. He’s not freaked out that it’s happening, because c’mon, he’s a Winchester. He’s only freaked out that it’s happening to *Sam* and it’s not something that Dean can fix with an exorcism or a spread of salt lines. Dean can’t protect Sam from this, and *that* is what freaks him out. But that’s not a distinction he’ll ever be able to vocalize, because that’s just not who he is.

The next morning, Sam and Dean revisit their guises of Fathers Frehley and Simmons respectively, and visit the Miller househould. Mrs. Miller is obviously distraught, so they’re left to talk with the son, who rattles on about the sympathy of tuna casseroles before asking them to sit and talk. Dean lets Sam take the lead on questions this time, simply listening and watching both the kid and Sam.

It’s not until the kid appears nervous or reluctant to talk about his father and uncle that Dean steps in. He asks if everything in the old house was “happy memories,” and the kid nearly vibrates out of his chair, demanding to know why Dean’s asking. “It’s just a question,” he says calmly, watching the kid fidget as he hands out the answer of, “Nothing, it was perfectly normal.” It’s immediately after that when Dean–not Sam–points out that it’s probably time to leave the family to their grief alone. When they get out to the Impala, it’s another story entirely. Dean and Sam have obviously picked up on the same things; the kid was terrified when he was talking about the old house, and they decide to investigate.

When they get to the Miller’s old neighborhood, they find out a different story than what they were expecting. Jim Miller–the boy’s father–and his brother–the uncle, Roger–were both abusive to the kid. Beat him regularly, verbally abusive, broke his arm at least twice, and the stepmother–yes, Aunt Zelda is actually a stepmother!–didn’t do anything about it, just stood by and let it happen.

It’s in the middle of this revelation about the kid’s history that Sam doubles over in agony with another vision. Dean has to help Sam back to the Impala, arm around his shoulders and carrying his weight it’s so powerful, but as we see the vision, we understand why.

The kid is doing the murdering. He’s telekinetic, and he murdered his abusive father and uncle, and this vision reveals that he’s about to murder his stepmother for standing by uselessly and not helping him. Sam realizes that he hasn’t been connecting to the whole family, just to the kid–named Max–and it’s been through Max’s eyes that he’s been seeing these things. He can’t figure out why he’s connected to the kid, but he assumes it’s because they’re both psychics.

Dean rightfully points out that Max is just a monster, just like anything else they’ve hunted, but Sam refuses to believe that. He points out–also rightfully–that Max is a person, and they can’t kill him. They can talk to him. Sam makes Dean promise to follow his lead on this, but Dean takes a gun out of the dashboard of the Impala and says fine, he’ll do it Sam’s way, but he won’t let the kid hurt anyone else.

Inside the Miller house, we’re treated to a replay of Sam’s vision; stepmother Zelda is chopping vegetables talking to the kid, the kid is angry, the knife rattles but before it can happen, the brothers Winchester kick down the door and barge in.

Mrs. Miller greets them with “Fathers?” even though they’re out of the collar, and Sam steps immediately into that, asking to speak to Max alone outside, promising it won’t take very long, and that it’s a private matter they wouldn’t want to worry her with. Max agrees to go out with them until he sees Dean’s gun in the mirror, and then all hell breaks loose.

Sam convinces the kid to let Dean take stepmother Zela upstairs, out of the way while Sam and the kid talk. And here’s where the episode kind of falls apart for me; because I was never really able to connect to the kid in any meaningful way, I don’t really care about his big reveal that he was still being abused up until his father’s death. I kinda really don’t care that he’s developed this telekinesis or whatever, because I don’t care about HIM. I kind of find myself agreeing with Dean, just because I can’t find an empathetic connection with the kid like Sam has.

Dun dun dun. Okay. Here’s the revelation I *do* care about, and that’s only because it affects Sam. The kid tells Sam that his father hated him because of his mother’s death; Max’s mother died in his nursery, while he was asleep in the crib.

Yep. Sounds familiar, don’t it?

Oh, there’s more.

“There was a fire. And he’d get drunk and babble on like she died in some insane way, He said that she burned up, pinned to the ceiling.”

Y’all, there just isn’t enough “Well, I didn’t see THAT coming” to cover this. And I really wish I cared more about the kid, because I feel like this is losing half the punch because I don’t. But it’s *decimating* Sam, and I love Jared Padalecki for underplaying it. Just the look in his eyes, and the fact that he’s about to cry gives you any indication he’s affected, but you *know* it’s shredding him to ribbons inside and answering all his questions about why he’s connected to Max all at once.

Then Sam’s desperate babbling about how it was true, that the same thing happened to his mother. That Max’s abilities had to start about six or seven months ago because that’s when Sam’s started. And that they were chosen, somehow, for something. Desperate babbling, because it means there’s something *more* and there’s answers just around the corner if there’s more like him out there, and my heart just *breaks* for Sam and I want to give Jared Padalecki an Oscar.

And Sam *almost* gets through to the kid, but in the end, Max doesn’t listen. He throws Sam into the closet and barricades it with a china hutch, and goes after his stepmother and Dean.

… okay, that scene is going to give me nightmares tonight. I didn’t need to see Dean shot in the head and his brains on the wall. *shudder* And yes, that’s only one of Sam’s visions, thank God.

Then here’s what I love. Sam can’t *stand* the thought of that happening, and he’s so *angry* and desperate screaming NO! that *his own telekinesis* kicks in. Moves the china hutch out of the way so he can go save his brother’s life.

Man, that’s love.

Sam bursts in only a second or two before the hammer falls, slamming the door into Max and halting the gun before it can shoot. The gun stays hanging in mid-air, pointed at Dean while Sam tries to talk the kid down, and finally, gets through to him.

“This isn’t the answer,” Sam says, and Max agrees.

And before anyone can stop him, the kid turns the gun on himself and blows himself away.

Sam is… understandably shocked. And Padalecki does an ace job of showing it.

After Max’s suicide, Sam admits to Dean that they were lucky to have John; “A little more tequila, a little less demon-hunting… things could’ve gone a whole other way and we’d have had Max’s childhood. All things considered, I think we turned out okay.”

It’s the last five minutes of the episode, with Sam and Dean back in their hotel room packing up to leave, which makes the entire episode worth watching.

Sam confesses that when Max put that big bookcase in front of the door, he moved it. With his mind. Like Max did. And Dean holds up a spoon, telling Sam to bend it. Sam gets frustrated, saying that he can’t turn it on and off like that, it just happened when Sam saw Dean die.

Dean is unconcerned, and Sam demands… here, I’ll type it out for you. Just because I’m swell like that.

Sam: Aren’t you worried, man? Aren’t you worried that I could turn into Max or something?
Dean: Nope. No way. (keeps folding jeans) You know why?
Sam: No! Why?
Dean: Cause you got one advantage that Max didn’t have.
Sam: Dad? Because Dad’s not *here,* Dean.
Dean: Nah. Me. Long as I’m around? Nothin’ bad is gonna happen to you.

Dean even teases Sam about taking him to Vegas and the crap tables, which Sam cannot believe Dean is teasing him about. But it’s not until Sam is in the car that Dean gets serious, and allows the camera and audience see exactly how worried he is about his brother.

The Winchesters really carried this episode, all things considered. It’s not a bad episode, just–like Phantom Traveler, not one of their best. But I’d still take this episode over a lot of other TV shows, know what I mean?

Best Lines
Sam: At least there’s one thing we’ve got in common with these people.
Dean: What’s that?
Sam: Both our families are cursed.
Dean: Our family’s not cursed. We’ve just… had our dark spots.

Sam: Aren’t you worried, man? Aren’t you worried that I could turn into Max or something?
Dean: Nope. No way. (keeps folding jeans) You know why?
Sam: No! Why?
Dean: Cause you got one advantage that Max didn’t have.
Sam: Dad? Because Dad’s not *here,* Dean.
Dean: Nah. Me. Long as I’m around? Nothin’ bad is gonna happen to you.


2 Responses to “1×14 “Nightmare””

  1. Haha… I wouldn’t go as far as giving Jared an Oscar, but he did shine on this episode… again a testament to his evolution as an actor and at the same time the evolution of the character Sam (since we do find out more about him here)… they seem to go hand in hand and it makes me wonder if it’s coincidental or intentional. I’m more inclined it’s coincidental, but I do like how it’s playing out. I do have to give props to Jensen for playing up the over-the-top pries bit in contrast to Sam/Jared’s earnest and believable priest.

  2. Buy the Season 1 disc set. Apparently their costumes as priests had sleeveless shirts under the jackets, because in the gag reel, they show up at the door without the jackets as new Chip ‘n’ Dales guys in town. Its probably one of those things you have to see, but I think you’ll get a kick out of it.

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