October 11, 2022
THEN: March 23, 1972, you walked out of a movie theater–Slaughterhouse-Five. You loved it, and you bumped into a big Marine and you knocked him flat on his ass. You were embarrassed, and he laughed it off, said you could make it up to him with a cup of coffee. So, you went to Mulroney’s and you talked and he was cute and he knew the words to every Zeppelin song, so when he asked you for your number, you gave it to him, even though you knew your dad would be pissed. That was the night that you met John Winchester.
New Orleans. March 1972. Samuel Campbell walks alone through a dark cemetery. He stops in front of a mausoleum and shines the beam of his flashlight on the Men of Letters Aquarian star carved over the entrance. He enters and walks down a short corridor to what looks like the top of a large cistern. The lid is also marked with the Aquarian star. We only see Samuel from the back. His brimmed hat and the tomb and the flickering torches are giving big Raiders energy and I’m here for it.
Samuel draws a blade across his palm and uses the blood to mark a sigil, unlocking the cistern lid. Before he can open it there’s a hiss and a shadow on the wall of something very large with too many legs. Samuel takes off running but trips, sprawling face down on the ground. His flashlight goes flying out of his hand—BUNGIE! He looks up and something monstrous leaps at him from the shadows. EEEP!
Y’all. It’s been almost two years. I did not realize how much I missed this world.
March 23, 1972. The day Dad came home from the war. And, the day he met Mom. Now I know this story might sound familiar, but I’m going to put the pieces together in a way that just might surprise you. And in order to do that, I have to start all the way at the beginning.
Even though Jensen Ackles has been on my TV in Big Sky these past weeks, I’ve missed hearing Dean’s voice.
A bus drives past the sign welcoming visitors to Lawrence, Kansas. John Winchester gasps himself awake from a nightmare of the war he’s recently left. He takes a few deep breaths and pulls an envelope out of his jacket. His name is written on the front. There’s an Aquarian star in the corner.
John gets off the bus and walks down the middle of the street through the center of town. He passes a diner that I’m going to imagine is the same one where he’s going to meet Dean Van Halen in a little over a year.
He walks along, taking in the town he hasn’t seen in two years, and collides with Mary Campbell. He crouches down to help her gather the spilled contents of her satchel. They lock eyes and I imagine giant cartoon bubble hearts floating around their heads.
John glances at the theater they’re standing in front of and asks how the movie was. Mary says she didn’t see it; she just came for the snacks—but she’s pretty sure the book was better. John is still holding her box of licorice drops. Some people would say licorice is made of dirt. Others rate it as a classic movie food right up there with popcorn. Little chewy pieces of Heaven. John laughs and calls it a nice choice. Mary says they’re on the house before walking away.
“I’ll see you around soldier boy.”
John reaches his destination—Winchester’s Garage. There’s a shot of the business’s logo in the background and it looks like—wait for it—an Aquarian star. Oh, SHOW. John’s mother Millie is elbows deep under the hood of a car. He says he loves what she’s done with the place. She replies that her husband and son walked out on her, so. This is the best she could do.
John’s eyes glisten and his breath catches like he’s not really sure his mom is glad to see him. The laugh bubbles out of her and she lets the wall crumble. She throws her arms open and welcomes her son home with a bear hug. YAY! HUGGING!
John changes out of his Marine greens and into his civvies. Millie glares a disapproving mom look at the beer he grabs from the garage’s fridge. John reminds her he’s legal now. Millie takes the bottle from his hand, saying as far as she’s concerned, he’s the same age he was when he illegally enlisted. To her mind, waivers don’t count when the signature is forged and the signer is a ghost.
Millie thinks that’s why John enlisted. She says he’s been chasing his dad ever since Henry left. Millie tells him it’s time to let the past go—but that’s hard for John to do when the past reaches out to him.
That night John goes to an address—29 Cornelia. A girthful fellow comes up behind him. He wants the key John is holding. Hand it over and Girthy will kill him quick. John throws a punch and Girthy’s eyes flip black. He grabs John by the throat, but before he can start with the killing, Mary slides in from behind and takes Girthy out at the knees.
Fight, fight, struggle fight. Mary has the demon handled but John keeps jumping in. She growls at him to STOP HELPING after the second time he accidentally clocks her in the face.
And let’s just pause for a moment to appreciate the number of disasters that could have been avoided if Castiel stopped helping—and people listened when Dean said not to do the thing.
Mary hands the demon his lunch and finishes him off with a roundhouse kick to the head that would make Patrick Swayze and Chuck Norris’s beard proud. While Girthy sizzles in the tank full of holy water, Mary questions him about her father. The demon says Samuel is going to end up in Hell with the rest of her kin—Maggie’s down there now. Burning so bright. Mary begins reciting the exorcism ritual and the demon smokes out.
John reacts as one might when confronted with malevolent entities of smoke and solid black eyes. Mary tells him to breathe and gives him a primer on demons. He asks about the meat suit floating in the tank. Mary sadly says he’s gone.
They both have questions about why the other is there. John goes first. He pulls out the letter and says when he first got back from Vietnam a man he’s never met gave it to him and then disappeared.
He’d never met.
It’s Castiel. It’s totally Castiel.
John says the letter is the first word he’s had from his dad in 15 years. It said he was gone … but John could find answers at 29 Cornelia. Sounds reasonable to Mary. She eventually admits that her dad sent her there, too. She shines a light on the door, illuminating the Aquarian star. She tried the lock but it’s magically sealed. John buzzuhs at that bit of information—magic is real, too?
His key opens the door to an abandoned and dust-covered Men of Letters chapter house. John wonders if his father could have been one of these paranormal Freemasons. He doesn’t care what Mary says, the star is giving him big Freemason vibes. Mary flips the lights and it’s not quite like coming home, but it’s a little like coming home.
Mary is amazed that she didn’t know the chapter house existed. Oh, girl. Just wait. John finds his father’s locker—the combination is his birthday. There are clothes and books inside and a black-and-white snapshot of Henry and Millie and their infant son.
John says when he was a kid he thought there was a monster under his bed. Henry
gave him a .45 told him not to worry, “I know how to trap it.” John went halfway around the world trying to figure his father out. He muses that the truth was right there in Lawrence.
Mary cracks into one of the file cabinets and finds the schematic her father was looking for. The page is filled with a star diagram and runes and a poem that ends with, “I will always lead you here, Ending the darkness that we all fear.”
I’m sorry, the darkness? So maybe it was Dean who gave John the letter and it’s somehow connected to Cas. Oh speculation, how I have missed you!
The file still doesn’t get her any closer to Samuel. The only other lead she has is one of her father’s contacts,
Captain Anacostia Quartermaine Ada Monroe. And the knowledge that when Samuel called her, he sounded afraid.
John trails behind Mary, brimming with a million questions. Mary regards this big puppy dog with his soft eyes and his floppy hair and tells him he doesn’t want any part of this life.
“Let the past stay in the past. Go home, soldier boy.”
Mary walks past the movie marquee advertising Slaughterhouse-Five—a story told by an unreliable narrator about a war veteran who becomes unstuck in time.
TIME TRAVEL, YOU SAY?
I imagine adult John telling wee!Dean the original version of how he met Mary, and Dean discovering that the movie was also a book. And then reading everything Kurt Vonnegut ever wrote because it made him feel connected to his mom.
The next morning John is waiting for Mary—with coffee—when she roars up to the diner. He says it’s what he does—or did, in the Marines. And she’s not the only person he found. He reads from a newspaper article, reporting on the signs of smoke—but no fire—seen at a rare bookstore in Lubbock, TX, and its missing owner, Ada Monroe.
John is ready to roll, but Mary tells him again that she’s trying to protect him. John counters that Ada is the only lead that either one of them has on their fathers. Mary points out again some more that Henry kept all of this from his son for a reason.
“Yeah, and I hate him for that. But I love him, you know?”
OH, WE KNOW JOHN. WE KNOW.
Mary doesn’t have a reply to that, so she sips her coffee … and is surprised that John got it right. He says he figured she liked her coffee like her world view—dark and bitter, black as night.
Before they hit the road they make a stop at the public library—after all, knowing is half the battle. (The other half is superior firepower.) Mary slaps the MoL file on the desk and announces she needs iron and buckshot.
Latika takes Mary’s brusqueness in stride. Mary makes brief introductions and gives Lata the sitrep—Dad went hunting without them and now he’s missing, along with his contact in Texas. Mary tasks Lata with figuring out the puzzle before stomping out the door with her bulging bag of weapons.
As Mary drives, John experiences a PTSD episode, flashing back to Vietnam. Mary notices and asks where he was just now. After worrying that he sounds crazy, John says he thinks he’s being haunted. (Note: Post Traumatic Stress Disorder won’t be added to the DSM-III until 1980.) But in Mary’s world, thinking you’re haunted is actually pretty sane. She tells him to grab the EMF reader from her bag. No flashing lights and no high-pitched whine means no ghosts. John is not being haunted—at least not by anything paranormal.
John says he keeps seeing his friend Murph stepping on a landmine. He pulls up his sleeve and shows her the scars from the shrapnel. He says he still has pieces of Murph’s silver cross in his arm. Mary sits with John’s honesty and vulnerability for a moment.
“I see the face of everyone I couldn’t save.”
Oh, Mary. We know. We know.
John asks how she copes with it all. Well, your son would say you take all the crap and you bury it. You forget about it. You shove it down and let it out in spurts of alcoholism and violence. Mary simply says she’ll let him know when she finds out.
They arrive in Lubbock—a 10-hour drive—and poke through Ada’s thoroughly ransacked store. John asks what the smell is. Mary says it’s sulfur; she calls it demon BO. They go upstairs and find a good old-fashioned hunter wall of crazy.
There are push pins and notes connected across multiple states marking possible Men of Letters locations. Mary’s gaze lingers on a postcard for Manners Motel. RIP Kim Manners. Something like hope blooms in her chest. She says Samuel was here—this is how his mind works and it’s definitely his handwriting.
A voice calls to Mary from downstairs. She and John run outside to find her car trashed and a tire iron-wielding demon waiting for them. They square off in the middle of the street until the
Mystery Machine A-Team Van Swagger Wagon screeches up and sends the demon’s new meat suit flying.
Carlos Cervantez slides out from the driver’s seat wondering when Mary is going to let Tupelo go? Carlos and his luscious flowing locks breeze past Mary and snag John by the arm. It’s time for the rookie to learn something. Carlos pulls out a water pistol and gives the demon a few spritzes of holy water—nothing more hydrating.
He lays down a salt circle and slaps a folded sheet of paper into John’s hands. John begins reading word-for-word as instructed. Carlos flips the menu over—while the Triple Threat grilled cheese is a divine sandwich, it’s not going to evict a demon. John reads the exorcism ritual and the demon smokes out.
Carlos finishes with a blessing over the woozy but alive meat suit.
Y’all. We love Carlos. We love him. PROTECT HIM AT ALL COSTS.
@jolauriang commented on Twitter that Show is basically setting up that John had all these people around him … and he lost them, too. I’m not ready to confront that possibility. I will say that a hunter named Carlos is mentioned in passing in Season 9. Take that for what you will.
The Scoobies go back inside, but Mary is left with more questions than answers by what she finds. She doesn’t understand why her father was hunting without her. She says there are no secrets in their family.
Downstairs, Lata and Carlos exposition about her nascent status as a hunter and his relationship with Mary. Lata says Mary can’t let Tupelo go because his flaking almost got her killed. As they talk, Lata notices a book on the floor. It’s open to a page about the box Samuel is looking for. The chapter house schematic provides the runic key to unlocking it. And once it’s unlocked, the box can trap and kill monsters.
The book also mentions the Men of Letters. Carlos calls them paranormal Freemasons. The little *ding* in the score after he says it and John is like, RIGHT??, is just poetry.
Carlos pulls a slip of paper from between the pages. John recognizes the numbers written on it as coordinates. Next stop—New Orleans! Mary demands—and gets—the keys to the Swagger Wagon. Carlos assures John that she’s really a lot meaner once you get to know her.
As they drive, Lata tells Mary with confident assurance that she can open the box—if they find it. Mary just stares ahead at the road. Lata asks if Mary is still mad at her. She explains that she had to come help. Samuel saved her life.
Saved her life and brought her into all of this, says Mary. Lata can still walk away. And she should. Lata simply says that what happened to Maggie wasn’t Mary’s fault.
In the back, Carlos sorts through his clothes looking for something more sartorially appropriate for John. Hey, my guy—wear plaid; don’t die. John asks how he got into hunting. John realizes too late that that question never has a happy answer. Carlos isn’t phased. He says he killed a ghoul … but not before it killed his whole family, so. John wonders if all hunters have such tough beginnings.
WE KNOW MY GUY. WEEEEEEE KNOOOOOOOOOW.
They arrive at the cemetery from the cold open. Lata hangs back as the others pile out. She asks John if he’s nervous. Her knees are hugged up to her chest. It’s okay if he is. It’s his first hunt! She says it’s fine to have second thoughts. John admits he is kind of nervous (he isn’t). He holds out his hand and suggests maybe the two of them could be nervous together.
Y’all. Drake Rodger though. Meeting the giant marshmallow of a man-boy he is now makes knowing where John is going to end up—as THE WORST—all the more painful.
Is it weird that I’ve missed having my heart ripped out every week?
Mary checks in with John and he says he’s okay. Just that it’s the second cemetery he’s been to this week. He spent the day with Murph’s mom on his way back. Then he asks Mary about what’s been haunting her—who’s Maggie? Mary only hesitates a moment before answering. Maggie was her cousin and a fellow hunter. She was like a sister. She was killed last year by a vampire. Eighteen years old and gone …
Mary says emphatically that she wants out of the life. A knife was put in her hand. She was never given a choice about it. She didn’t sign up for any of it. And as soon as they find her dad, she’s walking away. She doesn’t know what she wants to do after.
“I just want to live long enough to find out.”
They reach the mausoleum and the cistern. Mary finds her father’s Zippo. She lights a torch and John drops it into the hole. It’s a surprisingly long drop. Lata asks if anyone else is weirded out by the fact that there is a giant hole in the ground of an above-ground cemetery.
Carlos and Mary throw down a rope and she and John begin their descent. The ominous growling begins as soon as their feet touch the ground. They walk through the drippy chambers (that look way more expensive than I would have expected for The CW) until they come to a second raised platform. They shove the stone lid aside and there’s the box. John promises that they’ll find her dad, too.
The growl turns into a roar and it’s time to go. John turns and the light from his torch illuminates a full-on scary teeth, damn they got the BIG monster money, monster EEEP! They take off running and Mary says it’s a
rugaru loup-garou—a type of werewolf associated with Cajun folklore—that the Men of Letters left as a watchdog.
[Editor’s note: You can visit a Loup-Garou at the Audubon Zoo in New Orleans:
You know, the next time you’re in town.]
As though she can hear her future son asking, ‘Great, so how do we kill it?’, she says a silver blade can hurt, but decapitation kills it. And they just happen to have a silver blade … in the Swagger Wagon. They hide behind a wall to catch their breath and John says he has an idea. He digs a piece of Murph’s silver cross out of his arm. Mary isn’t sure whether to be unnerved, impressed, or turned on.
John knows it’s not enough to stop the loup-garou, but it will buy her enough time to get out alive. He smiles and says she really is a lot of fun. Mary runs and makes it top side. A possessed Ada is standing by the cistern looking over the box instructions. Carlos is concussed and out cold. The silver blade he grabbed from the Swagger Wagon is laying on the ground.
Mary drops the blade down to John and tosses the monster box to Lata. Lata quickly traces the unlocking pattern while the demon squeezes the life out of Mary. The box *poofs* with magic and sucks the demon into it. Down below, John jabs at the monster with the silver shrapnel. It buys him enough time to find the blade in a puddle before standing and taking the monster’s head off in one smooth motion.
I think John just embraced the life.
He hauls himself up onto the lip of the cistern and is like YOU GUYS! YOU GUYS! I TOTALLY JUST CUT A MONSTER’S HEAD OFF AND HAD A BIG DAMN HERO MOMENT AND IT WAS THE BEST EVER. He pauses to read the room—what did he miss?
Back in Lawrence, John confronts his mother. Millie is like, you’re mad at me? She’s the one who stayed. She says the truth is, all she ever wanted was her own garage, like her old man had. And then she met Henry and they had John, and in that moment Millie knew she would do anything—anything—to keep him safe.
The plinky piano of the “Family Theme” starts playing. NOT THE PLINKY PIANO OF THE “FAMILY THEME”. MY HEART. MY HEART ISN’T READY.
But, wait. BUT, WAIT. Because then Millie tells John that maybe one day when he has kids he’ll understand.
Ma’am. SIR. Did I say I missed having my heart ripped out? Because Robbie Thompson just whole ass ripped my heart out and showed it to me AND I COULD NOT BE MORE DELIGHTED.
John says Henry was trying to do the same thing. Keep them safe. He hands her the letter. Gil McKinney reads it in a voice-over.
If you’re reading this, then I’m gone. I’m sorry I’ve kept the truth from you, John. There’s a dangerous world out there, and our family has fought that danger for centuries. The answers to all your questions are at the address below. I love you and your mother. Always.
Millie quietly pleads with her son not to go down this road, but John is resolute. He says his whole life he’s been searching for something.
“Saving people. Hunting things. I was born to do this.”
Mary brings the coffee this time. John tells her he’s all in and pledges to do everything he can to get her dad back safe. He asks if she meant what she said about leaving the life behind. Mary nods. John sips his coffee and smiles in pleasant surprise. Mary says she figured he liked his coffee like his worldview—too sweet.
They’re joined by Lata and Carlos. Mary wishes she could talk Lata out of joining them, but Mary says she did good. Samuel would have been proud of her. And as for Carlos … he wasn’t terrible. It might be the nicest thing Mary has ever said to him, but she teasingly warns he shouldn’t get used to it.
Ada has apparently been recovering in the chapter house. She tells John he looks like his father (and freakishly, he kind of does). If Ada remembers correctly, Henry came into her shop looking for a book about wraiths. She says he was kind and had a great smile. Ada doesn’t know what happened to him. She says all the Men of Letters she knew disappeared 15 years ago.
Mary is like, enough about his pops, what about mine? Why was Samuel looking for the monster box? Ada says it’s the only thing that can kill the Akrida. She calls them a malevolent force not of this world. They’ve tried for centuries to invade so they can wipe out everyone in this plane of existence—humans, demons, and all manner of monsters—and take over.
The Men of Letters stopped them every time … but they’re gone now. Ada says Samuel found accounts in a Men of Letters chapter house in Savannah of how the Akrida have crossed over in the past, and how the MoL used the box to stop them.
Mary turns and heads for the door. She has to get to Savannah.
“We. We have to get to Savannah.”
The group rolls out as a team with some big damn Buffy and Scoobies energy to go save the world.
“I’d Love to Change the World” plays as the narration comes back to Dean. He says there’s going to be some surprises—he’s still trying to find all the puzzle pieces himself—but he’ll explain everything. And until then,
The camera lovingly pans along Baby’s exterior and Dean leaning against her. They’re parked on the side of a two-lane blacktop that stretches off into the distance. She has her original Kansas KAZ 2Y5 license plate. The POV flips to the passenger side as Dean tosses his journal on the seat and slides behind the wheel. The green Coleman cooler is in the backseat. The Samulet is hanging from the rear-view mirror.
FROM THE REAR-VIEW MIRROR.
Dean fires up the engine and regards the necklace with a lingering look. Then he drops Baby into gear and peels out.
This. This is the part where my heart actually exploded.
When The Winchesters was first announced, my reaction was tepid. John and Mary? Really? Out of all the veins they could mine (*cough* Wayward Sisters *cough*) this is what they chose? The story seemed tapped out. But then Robbie Thompson was announced as the Show Runner and Pilot writer. He’s a legend and a goddamn treasure for writing “Baby,” never mind he’s also the man who created Charlie Bradbury and Eileen Leahy and wrote “Fan Fiction” and the lyrics for “A Single Man Tear.” Basically, he can do no wrong in my eyes.
And then I got excited. Because if anyone could find a new angle on a story we already know, it’s Robbie. And he and Jensen both love Supernatural and this world. No one loves Dean more than Jensen.
The pilot of a show has a lot of heavy lifting to do, and I think this episode does so with aplomb. It feels of the mothership, but it pulls off the not easy feat of standing on its own as a spin-off. And I kind of forgot Dean was a part of it until he popped back up at the end because I’m invested in the Scoobies. I want to ride along in the Swagger Van with this found family.
I’m excited too about the Big Bad, the Akrida. They feel different from the Leviathan but are also giving me a little Kissi from the Sandman Slim novels. The episode closes with the song lyric, “Stop the war,” and I wonder if that’s a clue suggesting where things are headed.
Dean’s statement that he’ll keep picking the music is also intriguing. It suggests curation. A sense of control. He’s choosing how the story is told. The details about how John and Mary met have already been slightly altered. Should we question how reliable he is as a narrator?
I’d also like to think it’s a message meant for the Supernatural Season 15 Powers That Be that told Jensen he could “take it or leave it” where the finale was concerned.
Oh, it’s been taken. It is tooketh.
The Winchesters airs on The CW and streams at CWTV.com. Whitney is also watching Big Sky airing on ABS and streaming on Hulu. Follow her on Twitter @Watcher_Whitney.
Edited to add: Actor JoJo Fleites confirmed during an Instagram takeover that Carlos is non-binary and uses he/him pronouns within the show. This recap has been updated accordingly.