The Devil You’d Like to Know
Supernatural Episode Review – Season 2, Episode 14
“Born Under a Bad Sign”
When I watch this ep, I like to watch it alone, because it makes me edgy and I tend to squirm in my seat and the last thing I need is someone else turning to me to ask, “What’s wrong with you?” What’s wrong with me is that this episode makes me uncomfortable; I’m embarrassed to be seen enjoying it so much. I shouldn’t want to see Dean so confused and frantic or in pain or see Sam go so far astray that he’s seriously scary. I mean, why should I want bad things for my own true loves? But I do, oh, I do.
I was completely spoiler free for this ep and so had no idea what was coming at me. And it came, so to speak, like a freight train. It’s the story of little lost Sammy, his big brother Dean who finds him, and the trouble the brothers get into when they visit Uncle Bobby. Sounds like something from Dick and Jane, doesn’t it? Well, it’s anything but. The ep starts out with Dean making frantic calls to Ellen to find Sam, because Sam’s wandered off and that’s what drives Dean crazy. Dean, of course, finds Sam, and then, as they say, bad things happen.
Now I know it rains wherever the boys are, but this time, as Dean is encamped under a concrete bridge, the rain spatting down adds to the atmosphere of panic; there’s nothing worse than the feeling of having lost something precious and valuable. Doing that in bad weather only adds to your growing feelings of helplessness, and if you’ve ever lost track of a child in a crowd you’ll know what I mean. Only for Dean, the crowd is the whole freaking world and if he looses Sam, he’ll have fallen down on his own personal prime directive: looking out for his brother. There’s lots of cutaway camera action adding to the jagged edges of Dean’s emotions. Plus I like it when Dean’s hair looks all spiky like that. (An added bonus is the close-up of Dean’s cell, wherein we can see Sam’s cell phone number. I wonder what the total count of fangirls is that actually tried that number. I know I did! Not in service, alas.)
Finally, Sam calls. He’s at a motel, with blood on his hands, totally ignoring the cute fish motif of this little backwater establishment. There’s more cutaway camera work as Dean barrels down the hallway, looking for the right door, adding to Dean’s herky-jerky panic. Dean’s relieved to find Sam in one piece, albeit a bit pale, but what I love here is that when he sees that Sam’s coated in blood down his shirtfront, Dean’s right there. On his knees, pawing away, trying to determine where the blood has come from. He’s practically manhandling Sam because Sam is his to manhandle, checking him all over to make sure he’s okay, the way you do with a child in your care when they’ve fallen while riding their bike and come up, scraped and mangled by the gravel on the road. The barriers against intimacy fall away, just like they do here.
Luckily it’s not Sam’s blood, which means it’s someone else’s. Unfortunately, Sam doesn’t remember anything about where he’s been or what he’s been up to, so the mystery of the week, rather than the monster, unfolds before the Winchester boys. Soon, Dean brings in food and news, and the boys have a dither about how long Sam’s been in the room (two days), how long he’s been missing (over a week), and what he was doing when he last remembers what he was doing (getting burgers in West Texas). He feels like he’s been asleep for a month, and I’m riveted by the way Sam’s mouth moves as he explains all of this (watch for his totally adorable dimples when he says the word “bloody”). Dean assures him that no one has seen or heard anything from the room he’s been staying in, and then Dean finds blood on the window latch.
What makes the dither more interesting than it already is (if that’s possible, since I love all dithers) is Sam’s implication that something weird and possibly scary and dark is happening to him. As they sit knee to knee, Sam says, “What if this is what The Dad was talking about?” Dean’s response is telling, “You’re okay, and that’s what matters.” This is the first glimmer we get that frankly, for Dean, the whole kill-Sam-if-you-can’t-save-him enjoinder from The Dad is going to get tossed in the circular file pretty damn quick. Which is telling because it isn’t often that Dean disobeys a direct order, which this was, and a doosey at that.
The boys go searching for clues; Sammy seems like he’s leading the way, because that’s what he does, pointing to the right storage locker, having the right key in his pocket, all that stuff. But here, he’s dopey and sleepy and pale all at once, not his usually hale and hearty and vibrant self as he stands back and lets Dean discover everything. There’s more blood in a Blue Bug, and a receipt, which leads the boys to a gas station. It’s totally fun to watch Dean’s astonishment when the clerk describes Sam’s wild boy antics. Of course, Sam could never drink malt liquor or smoke like a chimney, not his Sammy! (I love the clerk in this scene. He’s got all the best lines like, “What, am I speaking, Urdu?” and “Po po will be here in five.” Both of which I plan to use at the first opportunity.)
The search gets more dire when Sam somehow is able to lead them to what turns out to be the hunter Steve Wandell’s house. For all he’s a hunter, Wandell makes the mistake of leaving his security system exposed (silly man) which means that at some point Sam was able to break in and kill him. The tapes that the boys find are fuzzy at best (and the fight scene a little clunky), but enough evidence points to Sam as the killer. Dean doesn’t care. If they can destroy the evidence (which Dean does with some satisfying bangs), then off the brothers will go. In Dean’s mind, Sam’s not guilty, even if he is. Now that’s love, and that’s what I love about Dean: faithful unto death, as they say.
Back at the motel, Sam goes at it with his best emo, all worked up, wanting Dean to shoot him, actually putting the gun in Dean’s hands. Dean looks pushed to his limits but I about stood up and cheered when he said he’d rather die than shoot Sam. At which point the ep takes an odd turn. Sam reaches for the gun, and for a moment I thought he was going to commit suicide, and I started shouting for Dean to stop him! Then, in a low tone, quite unlike my darling Sam, he says, “You’ll live to regret this,” and clocks Dean a good one, enough to knock him unconscious. Dean goes searching for Sam in a funny scene with the hotel’s computer, and a link up to a help desk clerk who thinks Justin Timberlake is a triple threat.
But my favorite scene, hands down, bar none, is the bar scene, no pun intended. It starts off with an interesting new slant, because as Sam walks up to mooch a beer from Jo, I realize that for the first time ever, Sam and Jo are alone together. Deanless. I like Jo in this ep because for once she’s not acting like an idiot, mooning after Dean. (Not that I can possibly blame her for having such excellent taste.) Instead she’s left home to follow her own path, making her own way. Anyway, Sam unfolds himself on a bar stool, all tall, dark, and lanky, and there’s something anxiety-forming about the way he sits and talks and watches her.
He’s got lots to say about how he’s not like The Dad, and how Jo shouldn’t hold it against him that The Dad is the one that got Jo’s Dad killed. He seems to be having two conversations at once, one with Jo and one with himself. It’s when Jo asks about Dean that things get terribly, terribly interesting, emphasis on the terrible part. Sam announces that while Jo is carrying a torch for Dean, and while Dean might like her, sure, it’s as a sister, a friend only.
Then he says to Jo, “I could be more to you, Jo.” (The tone of his voice, at this point, makes me uneasy and I wonder, what’s up with Sam?) And then he grabs her hand. He’s got his wrist cocked at an angle, with his sleeves rolled up on his manly forearm, and I have to tell you that he’s so powerful and bulked up, it’s pure, unadulterated wrist porn. It’s hard to explain why such a little moment could be so damn intoxicating, but it is. What’s even better is when Jo asks him to let go of her, he flips her hand away like so much dead meat, and the strength with which he does this contains the scary implication that he could have held on to her, if he’d wanted to, and it is only by some mercurial inner whim that he’s letting her go now. It’s a whole new Sam. Why, it’s Dark Sam!
Jo gets up and it gets rather worse for her while at the same time it gets better for me. Sort of. This is the point where I get fidgety in my seat and look around to make sure I’m alone so that I can totally and utterly enjoy what follows without having to hide my face or explain exactly what it is about this scene. It’s difficult for me to explain it even now. I’m a woman and am against all violence against women, TV, movie, and real, all day, all night, forever, period. I could qualify this and state that while I’m against all gratuitous entertainment-based violence, I can get behind it if it moves the plot forward. Right? Although while watching this scene, my cheeks burn, and I am unable to tell the difference.
Jo turns her back on Sam, and Sam comes up and grabs her from behind and whirls her around to face him, tucking her in his pumped-up and muscley arms. He’s got her good and proper, she’s so small and dainty, and he’s so ginormous and overpowers her with no effort whatsoever, it rather made me swoon at this point. (Like my reaction every time Rhett schleps Scarlett up those stairs.) And then, it gets worse. Sam spins Jo back around, and her attempts to get at him with a beer bottle are pathetic at best, but that’s not it. For one brief second, I actually thought that Sam was going to rape Jo, and had this been some pay-for venue, I think that that’s exactly what the viewers would have seen. As it is, I’m still fairly confident that that’s what Show wanted us to think could have happened, if Dark Sam hadn’t already had other plans.
And even though, EVEN though the whole scene reeks of non-consensual overtones, and I’d have my Badge of Womanhood taken away in a second if any of my fellows were to learn that this particular moment had me a tad worked up, I have to admit I was more than a tad worked up, I was left so shaken that I wanted a smoke afterwards. (Ask for a show of fangirl hands, and you’d get plenty to lie in this particularly naughty bed with me, because frankly, I’m not the first, nor will I be the last to be taken in by the overwhelming sensual attraction of evil. It all started in The Garden, after all. And while we’re pointing fingers, let’s give Padalecki his share of blame, shall we, for being so damn strong and masculine and MASTERFUL, and just about as gorgeous as I’ve ever seen him. To his credit, according to fan lore, Padalecki kept his co-star’s physical and emotional comfort foremost in his mind during the filming of this scene, but the fact of the matter is he’s hotter than a hot thing here. Hotter, as they say, than burning.)
Dark fantasies aside, as Sam bills and coos evilly over her unconscious form (he’s tender in the creepiest of ways), the scene thankfully, and to my relief, turns in a different direction. Sam waves a wicked looking knife around and torments Jo as he reveals how Bill Harvelle actually died. Sam says that during the hunt for a hellspawn gone wrong, Harvelle was so wounded that The Dad rendered a mercy killing to end his suffering. Jo is shocked, of course, who wouldn’t be, because how does Sam know this? (“I hear things,” answers Dark Sam brightly.)
To my mind, whether Ellen told Jo exactly what The Dad told her (that the hellspawn killed Harvelle vs. The Dad killed Harvelle), isn’t as interesting (or perhaps even as important) as whether The Dad told Ellen the truth in the first place. While it makes sense that she’d want to spare her daughter, I’ll be ducking rocks from Pro-John fans to suggest that The Dad did NOT tell Ellen the truth, and, frankly, who could blame him. It was an accident, of course, that Harvelle got mangled by the hellspawn, enough so that his innards were hanging out, but it was on purpose that The Dad pulled the trigger. Mercy killing or not, he left Ellen a widow, and left Jo without a father. Sam’s sing-song taunt of “My daddy shot your daddy in the head,” rang in my ears for days afterwards. Oh, The Dad. (Again, he’s not in the ep but he is!)
Dean comes into the bar, gun at the ready, and Dark Sam goes into his next move, begging Dean to shoot him before he does more evil. It’s beautifully shot as the camera goes into slo-mo and focuses right in on Sam’s face, to show us what Dean sees. Not as Dark Sam manipulating the situation, but little brother Sam, wracked with torment, and desperate for the pain and the darkness to stop. I’ve always believed that a little slo-mo goes a long way, and Show seems to know that as well, playing the duality of Sam’s current state excellently, the softness of the slo-mo juxtaposed against Sam’s torment.
Dean turns away just as Dark Sam delivers this wonderful bon mot, “Are you so scared of being alone that you’d rather see Jo die?” (No extra points for knowing the answer to that one!) Then Dean spins back around to slash at Sam with a healthy dose of holy water, and then Sam’s eyes flash BLACK. This shocked and floored me, not only that Sam, sweet Sam, could be possessed, but also that I’d not noticed that he’d been a demon the WHOLE time. (How did Dean know? Turns out he really didn’t, it was just his intuition that told him that Sam was acting in un-Sammylike ways, leading him to conjecture that it might be a demon, or some other unholy creature that could be tamed by holy water.) At which point, Sam dashes himself through a window, leaving Jo to gawp that she never knew and Dean to realize that he’s got to chase Demon Sam, and figure out what to do with him when he captures him.
If you watch the ep a second time, as I did (and a third, a forth, a dozen), you’ll see how marvelously creepy the switcheroo is; it’s like having two, two, two episodes in one! It’s mind-blowing to watch Padalecki do these multi-layered scenes first as Good Sam and then as Demon Sam, and each time I watch, have to hand it to him for the skill with which he demonstrates Sam’s insidious slither into evil. Every word Sam says up to the reveal, every glance, every gesture, every move is calculated to mesmerize and beguile, to pull the wool over Dean’s (and everyone’s) eyes as he moves the human pieces of the chessboard around till they’re just so. His intent being, it’s now obvious, to get Dean to shoot his baby brother.
Plus, it’s eerie to realize that all of Sam and Dean’s discoveries were the demon’s doing. Two of the best examples of this involve the gun at the motel scene and the finding of the receipt to the gas station. When you go back and watch the finding of the receipt, you’ll see that beneath Sam’s normal, good-natured mien, the façade covering pure evil is actually paper thin at every turn, brittle and ready to crack. Equally disturbing is the bit where Sam puts the gun in his brother’s hand, reminding Dean that he promised to kill Sam if Sam started to go darkside. Which, according to Sam’s report of his recent emotional state, is exactly what’s happening. Sam’s whole body quivers, his face tightens up as he tries to hide back the tears; it’s uber emo. Dean says, “I’ve tried so hard to keep you safe.” Then Sam nods, breath coming heavy and hard, but when you watch it the second time, and you realize it’s a demon controlling Sam’s moves, the moment becomes something more insidious. Sam’s taking a deep breath because at last, AT LAST, Dean’s going to shoot his brother. He’s a caricature of himself here and it just FREAKS me out!
Why and how Sam gets possessed is one of Show’s great-yet-unfilmed scenes. According to the dialog, it happened in West Texas, so let’s just say it’s in Abilene. (Where there is, according to sources, a haunted room 418 at what used to be the Travel Lodge, so maybe the boys were investigating that. And yes, I have stayed there, just for fun.) There is a BBQ place across the road, and maybe they have burgers and maybe they don’t. But the fact that Dean still has the Impala when the ep started means that Sam went out on foot to get burgers by himself, rather than bringing burgers back to share. I don’t want to belabor the point (too late!) but if there is no clear reason why Sam went alone, then this is a plot hole. A neatly round hold right smack dab in the middle of the ep. Which I can easily fill by imagining that Sammy just wanted some time alone.
Then, in addition to the fact that it’s a loooong way from West Texas to Twin Lakes, Minnesota (a three day drive, I’m thinking), it’s interesting to conjecture how the whole possession went down. Did the demon get Sam before or after he ate his burgers? And has he had anything to eat since then? (Demons, I’m thinking, do not take the best care of their host bodies, only enough to keep them going.) Given Sam’s pale countenance when Dean finds him, I’ll wager that the answer to this question is no. Anyway, burgers eaten, the demon takes Sam. Which then begs the question why then, and, what’s more, why at all?
The answer to the “why then” question can probably be found in the fact that Sam was, at that point, alone, an unusual state since the boys are in each other’s company 24/7. The demon took its chance when it could, which eerily indicates that it had been hanging around waiting for such a chance. The answer the second question, “why at all,” can, I think be found in the last ep, Houses of the Holy. Wherein Sam, looking for proof of angels, finds none. His faith begins to die, in spite of the fact that the whole purpose of faith is that it needs no proof, but the fact remains, Sam was vulnerable, and probably shaken by the whole experience. I don’t think it is any accident of Show’s that these two eps were presented one right after the other.
And how long was Dean unaware that Sam was missing? I give Dean at most three hours before he realizes something was amiss, 24 before he started making phone calls. During which time he prowled the streets of Abilene (or any West Texas town, none of which are very big). Then he widened his search to the nearby Texas prairie (mostly empty and rather hillier than you might expect), to finally stand on the highest roly-poly, sagebrush-covered hillside to shout his brother’s name in the most abject frustration. At which point he started calling Ellen, and, quite possibly, Bobby. (I’m 100% positive that while Sam was missing, Dean got almost no sleep, no hot meals, and has gone unwashed for days because there’s no TIME for self-care when little brother has gone missing, you fool!)
Anyway, up toddles the Gunfight at the O.K. Boat House, with Demon Sam and Dean exchanging hard WORDS and no gunshots. Sam’s got some great lines starting with: “You should have seen your face when you thought I killed that gai,” (the last word rife with Padalecki’s Texas accent) to his assurance to Dean that he’s going to have such an easy time killing every hunter he finds because, “One look at Sam’s dewy, sensitive eyes, and they’ll let him walk right in the door.” There’s no winning this battle, which is apparently not the point, as Demon Sam strides out through a door, leaving Dean no option but to follow. Well, all I can say is that Dean must be more rattled than normal because instead of being at his huntery best, he allows Demon Sam to get the jump on him. Dean whirls around and Demon Sam shoots him; Dean’s body goes into the water with a sploosh.
Are you ready for what comes next? I wasn’t. Using those shoulders of his to cut through the air, Demon Sam strides up to the edge of the dock, looking down over the water, checking to see whether Dean will surface. Then the camera looks up at Demon Sam’s face, half-lit by the dock lights, moist air stirring that emo forelock of his, and then, his mouth twitching up on one side, he smirks. It’s what we like to call the money shot, ladies and gentlemen, and it’s so sexy and evil at the same time, it’s outlawed in most states, including Wyoming. (When I first saw this grin of his, I was so discomfited by it, I didn’t know what to think. I am still uneasily bestirred by it, even as I wait for it with frothy and open-mouthed anticipation, thankful that Colorado has no such laws as are laid down in Wyoming.)
Next, it’s Jo to the rescue, and clever girl, she’s able to locate Dean by his cell phone ring. There’s something very realistic about the way Dean lays in the water, the way his hair spikes up with moisture and mud, and something very moving about the way he shivers and stumbles up the ramp. Someone, perhaps Ackles himself, did their research, and read up on what blood loss can do to you, especially when you’ve been floating in cold water and try to stand up too fast. Kudos, man. Then we get first aid, and it makes me frustrated that not only is Jo doing the first aid, Dean does not take off his shirt, which, yeah, with a bullet in his shoulder you would think he would. Not just for my benefit, surely (although it would have been nice), but also to make it easier for Jo to get at the wound. (And shouldn’t a wound that deep require stitches, rather than just a rough patching up?)
In spite of my first aid frustration, what makes the scene satisfying overall is the conversation between them, which, for once, feels real and unforced. Jo’s doing what needs to be done without any obnoxious flirting and with Dean responding as though he’s completely forgotten that he needs to keep her at arm’s length. The potential for any romantic dalliance between them is now firmly cast into dust, and I can now see how Jo might be an interesting character, with dreams and wants and all that messed up, coming of age stuff. And it’s not that I wasn’t willing for her and Dean to be a thing, it was the whole issue coming in so inorganically, rather like (exactly like) three suits in an office, completely out of touch with Show, determined that a bit of romance was exactly what was wanted and HANG what was really going on. Plus, Jo realizes that Dean will never call her (Yeah!), and Dean stalks out of there like a gunslinger going out to a shootout with Black Bart.
Sly Demon Sam arrives at Bobby’s house, to natter on about Dean being holed up with a twelve-pack and a girl, eyes flashing black. And while we know he’s a demon, Bobby doesn’t. Or shouldn’t. Or couldn’t. Or whatever. He’s savvy enough to know something is up, and so laces the beer he gives to Sam with holy water as a test. What I love here is that while Demon Sam writhes and coughs and falls to the floor, Bobby CONTINUES with his swallow of beer, as if he’s not at all concerned that he’s been invaded by one of hell’s minions.
Dean soon arrives, and since it’s Thursday, they tie Demon Sam up. Then Bobby starts an exorcism which almost from the start, doesn’t go as planned. Demon Sam is calling the shots here, threatening to have Sam bite off his own tongue, mocking them with his brilliant Latin and a marvelous cackle, and, scarily, breaking through the ropes that bind him like they were so much corn silk. The implication being here that some demons (and you never know which ones) are immune to exorcisms AND devil’s traps. Turns out that the burn on Sam’s arm is a binding link, which enables him to stay inside of Sam as long as he wants.
With a sexy turn of his head, Sam throws Bobby into one wall and Dean into another. Then he’s up and AT Dean for some mighty fine torture. Which, by rights, I should not enjoy, let alone be telling you I enjoyed, but heck, after my confession about the bar scene, everything’s out in the open now, so why be coy? Demon Sam tells Dean how bad hell is, how it’s blood and pain, and all the while punching Dean in the face. I count five large-handed punches, but what’s especially twisted is the way that Demon Sam jabs his whole thumb into Dean’s wounded shoulder. And then, as Dean tries to still Demon’s Sam’s hand, Demon Sam tosses Dean’s grip aside (much like he did Jo’s hand in the bar), and goes at it yet AGAIN. He wants Dean weak and writhing and I’ll say that’s pretty much what he gets. Note that while Sam is smashing away at him, Dean raises not a single hand in his own defense, except perhaps to grab at Sam’s wrist to indicate that his brother shouldn’t squeeze quite so hard.
Luckily, Bobby quickly figures out that the way to break a binding link is to sear the original burn with another burn, and it’s even luckier that Bobby’s got not only a fire going but a hot poker in the flames to do the job. The black smoke pours out and Sammy comes to, in a quirky, funny voice asks if he missed anything. Dean, who’s just about had it, bloody-mouthed and sweating with pain, lobs Sam a smack in the mouth for being such a pain in the ass. Bobby warns them that Wandell’s buddies will be looking for someone to string up, and that the boys better lay low. What I like is the way they march out the door, and I get the feeling, by the look on Dean’s face, that he’s prepared, totally and completely, to drive him and Sam around in the Impala 24/7 in order to keep anyone from catching up to them. And as they drive off dithering, Dean cracks a joke about Sam being naughty enough to have a girl inside him for a FULL week. Hell, that boy will be cracking jokes at his own funeral, so I’m not surprised.
It’s now mid-way through my review of season two episodes, and it’s long about this time that I look up from my work and realize that Show has hit its stride. Starting with Nightshifter, and perhaps before that, something quite extraordinary took place, and the boys, the lighting guys, blood artists, writers, best boys and girls, the grips, the camera team, that guy shouting from behind the camera, everyone. All got together, held hands, and promised to deliver at least 100% of every minute of every day. Which they did and then some. And nowhere more than in this ep, a personal favorite of mine, in spite of the fact that I now have to watch it alone, in the dark, a pack of cigarettes and a lighter at the ready. And I don’t even smoke!
There are many reasons for this, as stated above, but to those, I’d like to add a few more. First, it adds to the scariness of Show if Sam, good, sweet Sam, can be possessed, then none of us are safe. Although, it’s interesting to note that Dean, as yet, has not been possessed, and why this is I cannot tell, although it might have to do with the fact that he’s so altruistic and stuff that he simply cannot be taken over by demons. Next, that although Good Sam and Demon Sam look exactly alike, it’s the confidence with which Demon Sam carries himself that makes him so downright sexy and more intense. Which just goes to prove that your mother was right, if you carry yourself well, that’s half the battle. And lastly, the passion with which Dean believes in his brother. Apparently Sam can wade up to his hips in blood and Dean will still continue to believe that Sam is innocent. And that no matter what Sam does, no matter what Demon Sam tries to incite Dean to do, Dean will never, ever kill his baby brother. That in fact, the last order that The Dad gave him will forever and for always be DISOBEYED. Which, considering the source and recipient, is no mean feat.
Sylvia Bond is a ten-year technical writing veteran with too many degrees under her belt to count. She lives in Colorado, but does not ski, preferring instead to spend her money and time at the annual Great American Beer Festival, taking road trips across the United States, and reading historical fiction from the comfort of her fluffy green arm chair. She has been involved in fandom since 1993 and been writing fanfic since approximately 1993. What she finds most amazing about fandom (besides the open heartedness of fans and the sheer amount of creativity) is how visible fandom has become. “In my day,” she says, “we had to hide behind P.O. boxes to get fanfic. But nowadays, people wear t-shirts that shout their affiliation and share their shiny toys on the internet.” It’s a wonderful world.