We begin in Burkitsville, IN a year ago, and I already hate this episode. I despise Indiana. I was born there, so I know what I’m talking about. It has got tornadoes and unapologetically racist people and endless cornfields and it’s flat and hopeless. I know there are good parts to it, but I only ever saw one part of the state that didn’t make me want to jump off a cliff due to existential despair. Unfortunately, my relatives live in a terrible part of the state with no cliffs or adequately tall buildings, so I’d just spend every visit stewing in anger while feeling bits of my soul dying by the minute.
It’s an unhappy place for me, is what I’m saying. So I can believe any amount of evil about it. And the writers know whereof they speak, because look! There’s a wholesome older couple giving an apple pie to a sweet young tourist couple, and everybody’s way nice, and it’s all phoney as a four dollar bill.
The sweet young tourist couple ends up stranded just out of car with an inexplicably dead cell phone and car. They go through a creepy orchard toward a creepy house and find a creepy scarecrow. All of this is 100% authentic. I have been there and done that. I even know what it smells like. It smells like sickly-sweet rotting apples and moldering leaves and dead souls.
So of course grisly murder courtesy the monster scarecrow finds our two travelers.
Death by Monstrosity: 1
Blood and Gore: 1
This is what Indiana does to people. Beware.
We cut to a hotel room and a ringing cell phone, which Sam answers. It’s Daddy!
Daddy Issues: 1
My dear partner Zeroth has already analyzed this conversation. John’s basically a terrible father and a jerk and rips Sam’s heart out through his nose, and we see that Dean has been seriously warped by his upbringing.
Daddy Issues: 2
John gives the boys some names – all couples, all of whom vanished in the second week of April near the same Indiana town. And guess what? It’s the second week of April right now! But Sam wants to go to California to help Daddy hunt the demon that killed their mom and Jess. He and Dean get in a shouting argument over feelings and following their dad’s orders.
“Healthy Processing Of Our Emotions”: 1
Daddy Issues: 3
Sam takes off in the middle of the night in the middle of nowhere to go to California. Dean goes on with the mission his dad sent them on. There are hard feelings.
Brotherly Love: 1
So Dean goes rolling into our horrible little Indiana town in the gray and rain (and NOTHING is depressing like Indiana rain is depressing), and we find out how few people are in his phone’s address book as he scrolls through and pauses while considering calling Sam. Poor Dean. He really doesn’t have much of a life.
He decides against calling his brother and gets on with the investigating. He poses as a friend of the missing couple from the previous year, and runs into the brick wall of small town suspicion of strangers in the form of a dude named Scotty, who won’t give him the time of day. I guess they’re only super-friendly to people they’re about to have murdered.
Meanwhile, Sam is running into a little blonde waif on the road. Sam gets the Schrodinger’s Rapist treatment and doesn’t like it. Despite her suspicions of Sam, Meg happily jumps into a dodgy cargo van with a creepy dude who only gives rides to vulnerable girls, and Sam is flummoxed. I’m gonna give it a count for obviously creepy dude plus Sam’s irritation at not being insta-trusted.
Toxic Masculinity: 1
Back in town, Dean is talking to the older couple we saw in the opening scene sending our missing kids on their way. They pretend to have no idea who the kids were until a young blonde lady reminds them that they were definitely there – she remembers the dude’s tattoo. Suddenly, the older gentleman’s memory works, and he says they were there for like ten minutes. He points Dean to the road they took. Dean drives off, and the e-meter goes wild by the orchard. He finds the scarecrow, which looks no less horrifying by day.
We discover the scarecrow has a hook for a hand. Dean grabs a nearby ladder and climbs up for a closer look. When he pushes back the sleeve to inspect the hook, he sees the remains of a tattoo on the leathery skin – a tattoo that matches the missing man’s. Whelp. That plot just thickened.
So Dean drives back to town, where the young blonde woman from the diner, Emily, gasses up his car and pumps him full of some info. The older couple are her aunt and uncle who took her in when she was orphaned. The town is surrounded by failing communities, but has been inexplicably thriving – gosh, like they’re blessed or something. She can’t tell him about the scarecrow, but he does find out a couple is stranded in town with car trouble. Gee, do you think this could be significant?
Meanwhile, Sam has made it to a bus station, but the next bus to Cali doesn’t leave until the following day. He thinks about calling Dean, but then there’s Meg! She tells him Creepy Van Guy got handsy and she “cut him loose.” She claims she’s going to California, too. She flirts with Sam a bit.
Abruptly, we’re back in town with Scotty serving apple pie to the stranded couple. Dean comes in and orders pie himself. He chats up the couple and finds out they’re on a road trip. Scotty the Suspicious Dude tries to cold shoulder Dean out of the restaurant to keep him from talking to the couple. Of course it doesn’t work, and he finds out that Emily’s aunt and uncle, who run the gas station, had told them their brake line was leaking. They’ll be back on the road at sundown, they say. Dean offers to fix the line for free and get them going well before then, but they decline. Dean tries to warn them away from the area, but they just start to think he’s weird. He waxes nostalgic about how Sam would’ve had their complete trust by now, but is interrupted by the sheriff, who runs him out of town. Gotta love that small-town hospitality!
Meanwhile, Sam and Meg are getting to know each other over some beers at a little burger joint. Meg says she’s getting away from her overbearing, traditional family who want to order her around. Sam totally relates to this and tells her a bit about Dean. They have a toast to their independence. D’aw.
Once night falls, Dean hauls ass back to town, which is good, because the road tripping couple have just gotten stranded by the orchard and are now being chased by the evil scarecrow. Dean comes to their rescue with a shotgun. Alas, the scarecrow is not much slowed by rock salt, but Dean does get them to safety. He calls Sam to let him know all about it, but assures him he can get on juuuust fine without him.
Brotherly Love: 2
He tells Sam he’s figured out this thing is a pagan god, and this is some sort of fertility rite. He’s driving off to a community college to find out which god since he doesn’t have Sam to do the research. Sam tells him he can just ask if he wants help, but Dean is adamant that he doesn’t. He issues a Dean-style unspoken apology. Sam’s sorry, too. Then Dean shocks his socks off by telling him he’s right, he needs to live his own life, and Dean’s proud of him and wishes he could do the same. Then he tells Sam to take care of himself. The other shoe drops for Sam, who knows his brother’s just been saying goodbye.
Daddy Issues: 4
“Healthy Processing Of Our Emotions”: 2
Dean arrives at the community college, where the Cigarette Smoking Man, who has apparently quit smoking and developed a fondness for cardigans and plaid, tells Dean which part of Europe the locals are from and shows him a huge old book that contains Norse legends. Dean recognizes the Vanir as the creature he saw. Only he pronounces it “vonner.” And about everything they say about them has nothing to do with the actual Vanir (vah-neer). The Cigarette Smoking Man looks deeply uncomfortable, and I’m pretty sure it’s because his alter-ego knows this is bullshit. He also gets really freaked when Dean figures out how to kill the thing, but tries to scoff it off. We find out why he was so hinky when Dean goes to leave and the Sheriff is at the door to crack him in the head with a rifle butt.
What Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy?
Dean’s gaining on his brother, there! Also: never trust the Cigarette Smoking Man, even if he’s a community college professor in a cardigan.
We cut to Scotty talking to Aunty and Uncle, tearfully pleading with them in the rain. We get an expo-dump in which we discover they’ve been up to these hijinks for years. Uncle’s the one who sends the hapless couples to the orchard. Everybody looks the other way. Uncle thinks this is murder, not sacrifice, but Aunty tells him the god’s angry with them and tonight’s their last chance. Uncle’s fine with Dean getting killed, but he’s protesting about the girl. We already know which girl, but the show pretends the next scene with Emily getting shoved down in a coal cellar to await her sacrifice with Dean is a huge revelation. I really should’ve started a Subtle Foreshadowing count for this episode, because the writers spent a lot of time telegraphing their intentions whilst thinking they’re being sneaky.
Aunty says it’s all for the common good, though, so yay.
Back at the bus station, the bus to California has finally come in, but Sam won’t be on it. He’s decided something’s wrong, because he can’t get hold of Dean. Meg tries to talk him into staying with her, but the pull of family is too strong for Sam to resist. So off he goes, leaving Meg pouting.
Dean’s trying to break through the cellar door while explaining matters to a deeply upset Emily, who’d been kept in the dark all her life. She does know which tree Dean will have to destroy, though, so that’s good. Not so good is getting dragged out to the orchard by many armed townspeople and tied to trees (alas, not the tree that needs to be destroyed). Emily pleads with her uncle, but despite their tears, Aunt and Uncle are determined to go through with the sacrifice, and we are hammered over the head with “good of the many” moralizing. I swear to fuck Stephenie Meyer wrote most of this episode – it’s her brand of subtle.
Dean says he’s coming up with a plan, but night falls and he still hasn’t got one. Thankfully, he has got a brother, who appears in the nick of time after having stolen a car. Dean has a horrible moment when he tells him to keep an eye on the scarecrow, and Sam says, “What scarecrow?”
Dear, oh dear. It’s on the move.
Sam’s all for finding and burning the tree. Dean wants to wait for morning, but the sudden appearance of the town’s resident sacrificers puts a crimp in his get-out-of-dodge plan. Fortunately, the scarecrow’s pissed at Uncle, and hooks him to death.
Death by Monstrosity: 3
Blood and Gore: 3
It grabs a screaming Aunt, hooks Uncle’s ankle, and drags them off into the night while everyone else bravely runs away. When Sam, Dean, and Emily pause to look back, the orchard is sinister but quiet.
They go back the next day and find the First Tree, which they promptly douse in gasoline. Dean lights a branch to torch the thing. Emily takes the flaming branch, and pulls a Grumpy Cat when Dean tells her the whole town will die: “Good.”
I fucking love this woman.
The boys put Emily on a bus to goodness knows where. Sam’s upset that the townspeople will get away with it, but Dean points out that their town will now be just as crappy as every other small Indiana town, and that’s punishment enough. He offers to drop Sam off somewhere, but Sam has gotten over his wanderlust, pretty much because Dean is all he has left in the world. Dean, of course, has to blow off this deeply emotional moment with a snarky joke.
Toxic Masculinity: 2
“Healthy Processing Of Our Emotions”: 3
And blusters that he had a plan and totally wouldn’t have been dead meat without Sam’s help.
Toxic Masculinity: 3
Never let ’em see you sweat, right, Dean?
As the boys return to their fraternal adventures, Meg has caught a ride with yet another Creepy Van Dude. She invites him to pull over, and then pulls out a chalice, telling him she needs to make a call. She then slashes his throat and drains his blood into the chalice.
Blood and Gore: 4
She yells at the blood that she could’ve taken both the Winchester Bros. Apparently, the blood explains some stuff, because she calms down and says, “Yes. Yes, Father.”
Anyway, nevermind Meg – did I mention Indiana sucks ass? And not in the mutually-pleasurable way.