The second episode of the “Supernatural” prequel, “The Winchesters,” is titled after a song I loved in the 70s even though I was too young to ever really be into “CSNY” or see them in concert. Still, it brought back fond memories to actually hear it play in this episode.
As someone who was alive then, I enjoy this show being set in that time period, though sometimes it strikes me as an idealized TV version of the 70s, which was complicated and not all peace-love-flower-power. This episode lets the show really sink into the flower power part of the time, the monster taking up residence outside a commune. It opens with kids (okay young adults maybe, this is a very young show) singing and swaying around a campfire, wearing flower crowns, doing drugs, walking in the woods… It’s a 2022 version of 70s nostalgia, and a little less gritty than I remember.
In a typical opener of a “Supernatural” universe show, one kid soon sees what he thinks is his dad (in the middle of the woods inexplicably) telling him it’s time to go home – and then growing menacing-looking tree vines from his arms and wrapping poor Barry up and spiriting him away.
“The Winchesters” logo pops up and sparks out just like the “Supernatural” logos have always done, and that makes me smile for some reason.
To Savannah, Georgia, as we get the Dean Winchester narration about family ties being complicated. (That is the most gigantic understatement ever for Dean Winchester to say!) They raise you, teach you what’s right and wrong – and in some instances teach you how to kill monsters. But no matter who you are, there comes a time when you have to break from them and make your own way.
I guess that was sort of Sam and Dean’s journey; John himself never had to break from his dad since Henry was gone.
Dean: And if you’re not careful, things can get pretty ugly.
Again, with the gigantic understatement, Mr. Dean Winchester monster hunter!
Moving on to a pretty flashlit scene, the Core Four finding a bunch of dead zombies while Mary barks orders and Lata enthusiastically investigates a zombie’s dislocatable jaw.
Carlos: You are deeply weird and starting to concern me.
The weird is kinda the point though, Carlos!
The file cabinets are empty of any Akrida information, but Mary finds shotgun shells with “SC” on them – Samuel Campbell always signed his work. She’s convinced this is his way of contacting her. It’s very much a repeat of Dean always convinced that their dad was trying to contact them in Season 1 of Supernatural, insisting that he and Sam keep following his coordinates and his leads.
A few zombies, it turns out, are not dead, and they attack, the very convenient monster trapping box rendered unworkable for some reason (perhaps because it was too convenient). They’re all pretty badass fighters, including John, who ends up splattered with zombie guts. Drake Rodger is very good at the subtle comedy, so this is a running gag that tends to work.
Samuel has left a news story about poor Barry literally knifed to a zombie’s chest, and Mary thinks (hopes) that Samuel wants them to meet him there. The others aren’t so sure. Carlos reminds them that the plan is to find the Akrida and save the world, and maybe Samuel is just trying to throw them off his trail. Mary bristles.
Mary: He needs help and we’re going to find him! My dad is out there alone, we need to find him before the Akrida do.
She doesn’t listen to anyone, and the others protest her making decisions for all of them, just like her father did. They follow her though, albeit reluctantly.
She and John have a nice chat in the truck as they drive, John expressing doubt about being able to follow in his father’s footsteps. Mary reminds him that he didn’t learn to be a scout in the Marines overnight either and that he “did good back there.”
John smiles, says: “Lucky I have such a good teacher.”
Mary: (whacking him) Real smooth…
They banter over who killed how many zombies and share an easy laugh. Mary is at her softest with John; the rest of the time she’s a much more hardened version of the character than we saw in the “Supernatural” episode ‘In The Beginning,’ which is a little confusing.
Much of fandom keeps comparing her to Claire, either happily or not at all happily, but I’m trying to reconcile the Mary we’re seeing here with the young Mary we saw on the OG show. They are definitely different, but I guess we might see some evolution coming for Mary, so we’ll see.
This little exchange between John and Mary is reminiscent of Sam and Dean on many drives, an almost brotherly banter going on complete with whacks. You get the feeling the show is trying to recreate that ‘lightning in a bottle’ that Sam and Dean (and Jared Padalecki and Jensen Ackles) had from the jump, but this time with two people who will be romantically involved.
Hence Mary’s reaction, which turns the banter into something flirty. That doesn’t work in the same way as it did for Sam and Dean, obviously, and so far, I’m not sure if recreating that chemistry with similar types of interactions/banter is going to succeed. It’s a different type of relationship, albeit both love stories – one platonic, one romantic.
I almost hope the show goes down the darker path of John and Mary not falling in love in any ‘epic love story’ sense but being manipulated into it as it was suggested happened on “Supernatural.” That would be interesting, and the friction that would create between them might result in some extra sparks too. After all, there was plenty of friction between Sam and Dean in Season 1, and it added to the fascinating complexity of their relationship. I don’t think that’s where the show is going, but it might have been fun.
Things may be easy between John and Mary for the moment, but they are not easy at all when the foursome stop at the Winchester Garage.
Millie has been looking at Henry’s watch and photos when the van pulls up, and she’s angry at John, saying they had a deal that he’d stay in touch and then he disappeared for a week.
Millie: And when you come back, you’re covered in blood, like your Dad all over again! I waited for a call, a single call. All that shows up is some trash roadrunner that needs fixing. (Mary’s car)
She says all she has left of her husband is in a box, will that be all she’s gonna have left of her son too?
John is immediately defensive, although frankly, I think Millie makes some perfectly reasonable points. He couldn’t have just given her a call at some point to say he was okay? It wasn’t so easy then, I realize, no cell phones so sending a quick text won’t work, but there were lots of payphones around all over the damn place. John’s own insecurity and doubt makes him misinterpret what his mother is saying.
John: You don’t think I can do this.
In a bit of a temper tantrum, he walks away and gets back in the van, and they drive away.
Harsh. I’m still Team Millie on this show.
They go undercover to find out what happened to Barry, John insisting he’s not nervous he just “prefers the less talky more punchy side of hunting.” I guess that’s a big difference between John and his father, and also something he’ll have in common with his son Dean eventually.
The OG “Supernatural” running gag about musicians’ names on Sam and Dean’s ID badges appears in this episode, with John protesting about having to be Mick Fleetwood a bit like Sam protested being a ‘bikini inspector.’ Mary is Christine McVie. John warns that he’s not going to say the name…and then caves and totally does.
Lata becomes even more beloved by an entire fandom when Carlos snarks “you think you brought enough books?” and she coolly replies “there’s even more in the van.”
Carlos says he wants to find Samuel, but he’s struggling with the team approach. He’s used to working on his own and calling the shots, or as he puts it, “I’m used to being the only one onstage, not part of a band, especially when Mary is on lead vocals.” She only knows how to sing Samuel’s song, he says.
It reminds me of early seasons Dean Winchester again, only able to sing John’s song, even when his brother takes issue with some of John’s eventual authoritarian ways. Lata describes it as the Campbell song, my way or the highway.
I wonder if Henry was also like that, or if John picked up some of that from Mary….thinking too hard about this early version of Mary having a lasting impact on this early version of John makes my head hurt with canon protectiveness though, so I’m not gonna go there.
John and Mary come back with intel, that Barry got taken by some kind of monster.
Side note, I love the seedy motel vibe that is so very early seasons Supernatural here. I’ve missed it!
Anyway, a monster. At a commune called Harper’s Ranch.
Lata: (grinning) A monster you say?
Carlos: (grinning) A commune you say?
Both are way too excited, and though Mary admonishes Carlos “Oh Losy, stop smiling,” he doesn’t. In fact, he bursts into song and we get an impromptu musical number in the middle of the show, everyone dancing around and Carlos belting out “Age of Aquarius”. It’s endearing, and Robbie Thompson has always been a writer who isn’t afraid of the weird, so I enjoyed it even though I was shaking my head at the same time.
Side note: Back in the actual 70s, my brother was obsessed with that song when he was like four years old and would go around the house singing it much like Carlos did, with the rest of us groaning. Must be something about that song…
They all go undercover at the commune, Mary inexplicably in a white maxi dress, which seems like the absolute last thing an experienced hunter would wear to a case that takes place in a commune and the woods. Their outfits are slightly idealized 70s, though John’s is pretty much par for the course. I lament Drake Rodgers’ lack of bell bottoms though he would totally rock them.
The commune’s director Clyde explains that people come there to “break free from tyranny and shed your past like your skin, especially the people who hurt you.” For him, it was Sister Bernadette at the orphanage; for most people, it’s their parents. That’s the theme of the episode, though I like that it doesn’t come down firmly on the break-all-the-ties side.
Meanwhile, Ada comes by the garage and introduces herself properly to Millie, who’s not all that happy to see her. Ada says that John just needs time, and Millie snarks back, “you learned all that in one week with my son?”
Ada: I learned that from his father.
That shocks Millie, who I would imagine has been pretty desperate all these years to find others who knew her disappearing husband. Ada says that John is open in a way that Henry never was, and she suspects that comes from Millie, paying the other woman a compliment.
She gives Millie the address and number of the motel where John and the others are staying – as she says, “peace of mind.” I’m glad someone thinks that Millie being worried about her only just returned son is okay!
Millie softens and thanks her. Ada also asks to take some of the rambling vine that covers the garage. Millie says that Henry planted it years ago, and she never learned its name or how to take care of it, but it’s still there after all those years.
Ada: It’s jasmine. It’s for protection.
That made me unexpectedly emotional, the thought that Henry tried to protect his young family as best he could. They don’t know, but we do, that he didn’t mean to stay away, that it killed him to be pulled away from them. Of course, it hurt them terribly too.
I am really looking forward to Gil McKinney as Henry – we don’t know much at all about him from the Mothership show, so it’s wide open for us to learn more. I love Gil and he’s a great actor, so come on show, use him!
The Core Four go down a wrong road thinking that Clyde may be a shapeshifter. Clyde, for his part, sees what he thinks is Sister Bernadette in the woods, and soon the vine monster drags him off too. Mary tells John that you have to look for a shapeshifter’s “tell.” any odd behavior, to identify one. John wonders again if he’s cut out to be a hunter, that maybe his mother is right. Then he shakes his head.
John: It’s my life, not hers.
Again, this is a theme that echoes early seasons “Supernatural,” as both Sam and Dean try to individuate from John, each in their own way. That sets up conflict between them, because their ways are not the same, but ultimately, they find their way and become their own men.
Back to the story:
Mary decides it’s a type of shapeshifter called a mimic, only vulnerable to weapons made of copper – which of course are the only kind Carlos doesn’t have because quality weapons not cheap garbage made out of pennies… so John goes back to the motel to take apart the copper plumbing. Lata disagrees with Mary that it’s a mimic, finding some strange purple flowers.
Lata: I’ll have to check the lore.
Shades of early seasons Sam Winchester!
Mary doesn’t want to listen to any of Lata’s theories on what it might be, just wanting to say they figured it out and that’s that. Meanwhile, Ada finds a secret room in the clubhouse and makes a potion. When she drinks it, she goes into a trance and starts writing with strange symbols.
Lata checks with Ada about the flower and then goes to look it up in the many books she somehow has fit into the van (which is not all that large with four people also in it.)
Latika’s enthusiasm for research is so reminiscent of Sam Winchester and also, just infectious.
John ransacks the motel sink (sorry, motel owner) and then Millie knocks on the door. Or is it? It could be, because we know Ada gave her the address, but it soon becomes clear that it isn’t. Millie insists that John is rebelling; he insists he isn’t. She says that deep down, John knows it’s his dad that never believed in him, as John protests that’s not true.
It’s a common trope in OG “Supernatural” too, using the monster who takes on the shape of a person to voice some of the characters’ deepest fears and insecurities.
Millie: We both know if he really wanted you to follow in his footsteps, he would have stayed and trained you to be part of the Men of Letters. You have to face this. I know it’s painful, knowing you were the reason he left, especially after hearing all those stories about Samuel training your new friend Mary.
That’s the moment John recognizes that “tell” Mary was talking about. He never told her about Samuel or Mary.
John: You’re not my mom!
He hits her with a copper pipe, but she just grabs it and holds it still.
Not!Millie: I’m not a mimic either.
Side note again: I’m really loving these vintage motels!
As John wrestles with the vine monster, Mary and Carlos argue about the way their little team is working (or not). He says she can’t keep treating people like her dad, the front man who ignores the rest of the band. That she needs to listen, the way her dad never listened to her.
Carlos: You keep Samuel on this pedestal but it’s time to take him down. Embrace the kind of leader you can be without him.
It sure does sound more like the John Winchester we knew in “Supernatural” than anything – so John ends up becoming just like his father in law?
Mary finally realizes she should have listened to Lata, who has figured out they’re not hunting a mimic, but La Tunda, a controlling abusive mother who kept her kids trapped and then chopped them up and fed them to her flowers when they tried to rebel. Harsh!
She now preys on disobedient children – like John, Mary realizes. They rush to save him and burst through the motel door, but it’s too late, John is gone.
Mary: This is all my fault, I should have listened to both of you.
She apologizes, leaving Carlos speechless with shock before Lata intervenes. I too am a bit shocked – that was a quick capitulation. John, meanwhile, is tied up in vines in the woods along with Barry and Clyde ala episode 2 of “Supernatural,” ‘Wendigo’. He promises them he’s gonna get them out of there, though they are understandably skeptical.
Mary puts Lata in charge – again, a very quick turnaround within one episode – and Lata comes up with the plan to stab her in the heart with her own “leg” with all her trademark enthusiasm.
Carlos: I take it back, I love that deeply weird side of you.
Carlos pretty much gets the best lines.
La Tunda returns and attacks Barry while John breaks away and frees Clyde before the monster confronts him, saying she has to punish him. Uh oh. Mary and the others show up and join the fight, Mary flying through the air in her snow white dress as she tells John to go for the monster’s leg.
La Tunda: You’re still just a helpless little boy whose father left because he didn’t believe in you.
John: I just need to believe in myself.
(That was a little too over the top earnest and on the nose for me, though Drake Rodger’s delivery is as solid as it can be.)
They stab her in the heart, and John gets splattered again, with green sap blood this time.
Mary: Nice shirt.
That struck me again as a very Sam and Dean little exchange.
The foursome watch Barry finally go home and be welcomed by his Dad with a hug; John and Mary looking wistful, but understanding each other a little better.
Lata and Carlos drop them off at the Winchester Garage. Millie officially meets Mary and tells her that her car is fixed and it’s on the house, since she brought her kid home safe. Mary drives off, leaving John and Mary to get real with each other.
John: I thought I was angry at you for not believing in me, but I wasn’t, okay? I was angry at Dad, and I did what I always do, which is take out on you what I can’t take out on him. I’m sorry.
The John and Millie relationship is still the strongest one of this show for me. That little exchange rang very true and let us know a lot about the past 20 or so years of John’s life. And Millie’s.
Millie says she does believe in her son. She shares that Henry and her had a rule that even when they fought, they’d find a way to tell each other I love you. The day he disappeared, neither of them did that.
Milllie: We’re always gonna have our fights and I’m always gonna worry about my baby but I am never gonna let you walk out that door again without telling you I love you.
John says it back and they hug. Awww.
Carlos brings pizza to the clubhouse. Mary thanks him for calling her out, says she hates to admit it but he was right. They decide that Millie isn’t off John’s back, but she does believe in him, so that’s a win. They got a monster off the board, so that’s a win too. And Ada has a lead on the box.
She shows them the secret room of the clubhouse and the automatic writing, says she tapped into her subconscious to access the demon that possessed her, who knew about the box. Progress.
I really like the Men of Letters clubhouse set too, with all its intricacy.
“Teach your children well…” plays as they eat pizza, laughing together, enjoying the wins. Millie smiles and takes care of the jasmine plant as she looks at Henry’s watch. It’s a nice moment, broken quickly in true “Supernatural” fashion by a hooded figure walking through dark woods, catching a glowing substance in a vial, shadowy creatures scattering after them.
It was the creepiest part of the show, the only part that was actually a bit scary since we can’t see everything too clearly. I always prefer that to a monster you can see clearly and can’t help critiquing. Hmmm. Who could that be???
I’m intrigued – we’ll find out tonight on a brand new episode of “The Winchesters” on the CW!