Skeletal, Halloween-ish, shadows encroach on a cozy suburban home. Inside, wholesomely named Mary (Samantha Smith) and John (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) tuck their two boys into bed. Later, Mary is awakened by her crying infant. When she enters the kids’ room, lights buzz and flicker as she slowly realizes that the figure by the crib is not her husband. Though not cutting edge, Supernatural‘s opening is deliciously spooky, setting the stage for a show rooted in classic ghost stories.
Mary’s subsequent murder is clearly “supernatural”: John finds her stuck to the ceiling, terrified and dripping blood into the crib, before flames engulf her. Her unfathomable death determines her sons’ futures. Like horror-movie protagonists, the boys are defined by violence and loss, destined to be skittish, grim, and forever estranged from “normal society.”
Twenty-two years later finds younger brother Sam (Jared Padalecki) trying to escape this fate by applying to law school and refusing to share his past with live-in girlfriend Jessica (Adrianne Palicki). Of course, into his “safe” life comes older brother Dean (Jensen Ackles) to ask his help in finding their missing father.
Though the family consists of men living together Sam is quick to clarify that they “aren’t the Brady Bunch.” Like many college students, he feels ready to distance himself from his family and create a new life, though perhaps he has more reason than most. “When I told Dad I was afraid of the thing in my closet, he gave me a .45. He was supposed to say ‘Don’t be afraid of the dark,'” he bemoans. “Of course you should be afraid of the dark!” Dean counters. “You know what’s out there.”
Indeed he does. Left alone, the Winchester men lived up to their name, acting as weapons against any oogly booglies they came across while hunting for Mary’s killer. While Sam resents that they were “raised like warriors,” Dean remains singularly focused: he shows no interest in meeting Sam’s girlfriend other than to briefly leer at her before getting back to the task at hand.
Tensions between siblings seem to be a hot topic this season: the WB’s fall lineup includes two series about brothers and four about sisters. Despite being the only other boys on the block, Dean and Sam are less like the One Tree Hill guys than the sisters on Charmed. Both sets of siblings are shrouded in secrecy and bound to defeat demons, whether by sacred duty or family vengeance. They differ in the usual boy/girl ways: the sisters emote by hugging, Dean and Sam by name-calling. (“No chick flick moment,” Dean objects when Sam tries to make up after an argument. “All right, jerk,” Sam answers. “Bitch,” Dean adds.)
The sibling sets’ differences are more significant. The sisters stay put and protect their family home. Dean, Sam, and their father, however, live in transit. By attempting to avenge their wife and mother’s death, they are perhaps trying to reclaim the sense of home they lost along with her. Ostensibly about demon-hunting, Supernatural also ponders how and whether a fractured family can be brought back together.
This theme is mirrored in the premiere’s subplot. During the search for their father, the boys encounter a “Woman in White,” the spirit of a woman who killed her children and herself after learning of her husband’s infidelity, and who now kills any unfaithful man who crosses her path. A siren-like wraith, Constance (Sarah Shahi) plays out a gender-reversed cautionary tale: careful, boys, don’t pick up pretty girls wandering by themselves on dark roads. “Take me home,” she begs of passersby and when they try, she laments, “I can never go home” before attacking. Though the villain of the story, Constance also can be seen as the Winchester men’s parallel: too afraid to accept what has happened to her home and family, she can only hunt whatever gets in her way.
By becoming hunters, Constance and the Winchesters have transformed their sorrow into aggression. Dean, Sam, and their father have become outlaws, getting by on credit card fraud and cutting through red tape by impersonating officers. Though it has plenty of thrills and chills, Supernatural is also a modern-day cowboy story: nomadic young men with nothing but their weaponry, transportation, and grit, obeying no law but their own. At the end of the episode, Sam again tries to break away to lead an “apple-pie life.” He comes home to his girlfriend, who has left him fresh-baked cookies and a love note. Once again, the woman in his life is taken from him (and again plastered, open-mouthed with pain, to the ceiling). Clearly, Mary’s death was not random. The evasive baddie appears to be taunting the boys. With no home to go back to, Sam submits to his fate, ready to face the next evil with guns blazing.