In retrospect, “Dead in the Water” is when Supernatural went from passing its written exam to getting the show on the road. The episode was beautifully filmed by director of photography Serge Ladouceur, with the grain of film and working in his favour. Sam and Dean (Jared Padalecki and Jensen Ackles) look luminous and the sheer number and variety of director Kim Manners’ inventive shots made it seem more like a big-screen horror movie than a mid-2000s procedural TV episode.
And yet, it was episodic. “Dead in the Water” is a one-and-done story in which the boys roll into a town where people are dying in water-related mishaps: on open water, at home in a washing basin, and, almost, in a bathtub. But the circumstances were all just a bit too strange and the victims a bit too related for the deaths to be coincidental. Sam and Dean go in looking like the least likely game wardens, but, after confessing that they are not, do finally figure it out.
Spoiler: It turns out that the ghost of Peter, a young boy who was drowned in the lake by two other boys horsing around with him, has been haunting the now-grown men and their children and grandchildren. Justice in the episode is like that of Final Destination: non-judgemental and inevitable. The men have been metaphorically haunted by their actions for decades, but now, when the men are at a phase in their lives when they should be looking at retiring and enjoying life with their children and grandchildren, that Peter’s ghost comes back to haunt them. /End spoiler.
The genius of Supernatural’s early Monster of the Week episodes was sometimes less about the case (although this one was great) and more about developing the relationship between the two formerly estranged brothers. In this episode, Sam marvels at the fatherly instincts that Dean shows towards Lucas, a clearly traumatized child who won’t speak, but seems to be able to predict the future in drawings. Dean won’t explain his affinity for the Lucas to his brother directly, but says to Lucas: “You’re scared. It’s okay. I understand. See, when I was your age, I saw something real bad happen to my mom, and I was scared, too. I didn’t feel like talking, just like you. But see, my mom—I know she wanted me to be brave. I think about that every day. And I do my best to be brave. And maybe, your dad wants you to be brave too.”
Dead in the Water was the first Supernatural episode written by Sera Gamble and Raelle Tucker. The team would go on to write some of Supernatural’s most emotionally and spiritually intense episodes, with an emphasis on characterization and atmosphere. In short, they brought the goth.
I’m only three episodes into ranking all episodes of Supernatural and I’m ready finding it difficult, especially as I’m not allowing ties in the rankings. The pilot had to string together a lot of significant elements to sustain at least one season (and it’s provided story fodder for 15 full, 20+ episode seasons), but “Dead in the Water” was a perfect black pearl.
Gamble and Tucker had previously worked together on a short-lived show called Eyes, created by John McNamara.Tucker would eventually leave Supernatural for True Blood. Gamble stayed on and became the showrunner for seasons 6 and 7, and is now co-showrunning several shows, including The Magicians, which she created with McNamara.
For nerd cred, the big guest star in this episode was Amy Acker. I’d love to see her back on the show, perhaps with a grown-up and well-adjusted Lucas (who was originally played by Nico McEown). People who Sam and Dean save turn out okay, right? 😉
- Episode 1.01 “Pilot”
- Episode 1.03 “Dead in the Water”
- Episode 2.01 “Wendigo”