Mark Watches ‘Supernatural’: S01E14 – Nightmare

In the fourteenth episode of the first season of Supernatural, Sam’s visions increase in number and severity, and it brings the Winchesters to a seemingly normal family who keep dying in Sam’s head. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Supernatural.

Trigger Warning: It’s impossible to discuss “Nightmare” without talking about abuse, so heads up!

It’s a tricky thing to use abuse as a plotline, especially in a show like Supernatural. Mixing something that is a real life nightmare with the supernatural can often end in disaster. (Obligatory mention of how much I hate Doctor Who‘s “Fear Her,” which is unforgivably bad, as made clear by my YEARS-OLD GRUDGE AGAINST THAT EPISODE.) I don’t think what we see here in “Nightmare” is necessarily perfect. Again, it’s challenging to watch something like this play out when you know what the experience is like. I have to try and not project too much, to expect perfection or expect a narrative that mirrors my own. At the same time, I wanted a story that didn’t rely on the same stereotypes or motifs we often see in fictional depictions of abuse. For the most part, what we see here is great. It’s entertaining while being incredibly truthful about how painful it is to be the victim of parental abuse.

Let us discuss!

The Good

Thankfully, most of what I want to discuss in regards to “Nightmare” is overwhelmingly positive, as the writers took great care not to make this episode feel exploitative of abuse victims. The narrative inherently validates Max throughout this episode, centering his feelings, making him incredibly sympathetic throughout, and ultimately respected the fact that he didn’t have to forgive his father or step-mother along the way. Sam repeatedly said he had to let his stepmother go – both figuratively and literally – but he never once said he had to forgive anyone. I was also impressed by Sam’s insistence that by killing his stepmother, Max would invite more pain into his life. The truth is that the nightmares from abusive relationships don’t just disappear when the abusive person is no longer in your life. I unfortunately know that from experience. To this day, I still have nightmares – extremely vivid and unsettling nightmares – about my parents. Despite that I know that my mother would never treat me that way again, and despite knowing that I have forgiven my parents for what happened to me, my subconscious still haunts me. I can’t help it. It’s a form of emotional trauma, and the scars remain.

But the one thing here that I loved the most was the fact that Sam had to admit that he and his brother had it so much better. “Nightmare” reveals that Max’s mother died from the same demon that killed Mary Winchester and Jess (!!!!!!!!! oh my god HOW IS THIS EPISODE REAL OH MY GOD !!!!!!!), and it allows Sam to find comfort in the fact that there is someone else there to share in his grief. That’s not to say that Sam is ignoring Dean or that Dean’s presence isn’t important. But while Sam is talking to Max, he’s desperate for any connection with this young man to bridge the gulf between them. However, this connection is the only one they have, and I think it’s incredibly important that Sam not only recognizes but vocalizes the fact that he cannot comprehend what it is like to be abused by a parent. Y’all, that is such a vital thing to understand, and the script is so clear on it, and that is AWESOME. This is a very, very good thing.

This episode is also extremely high on the WINCHESTER EMOTIONS chart. If there was an actual chart that I had made, the bar for “Nightmare” would be at the top. LOOK AT DEAN’S FACE. Jensen Ackles is UNREAL in this episode, as he’s able to convey these subtle moments of panic and concern with his facial expressions, and it’s utterly heartbreaking. He insists that he is totally fine and not afraid or freaked out but poor Dean oh my god you need a thousand hugs. Of course Dean is utterly terrified by what’s going on, but he plays the perfect, supportive big brother for Sam because WINCHESTER EMOTIONS EVERYWHERE. Oh my god, Dean even says that he’s here to protect his younger brother in the final scene of “Nightmare”! Granted, that scene is also there to cast a whole lot of dread over us because WHAT’S HAPPENING. I DON’T UNDERSTAND. Why were Sam and Max given these powers? Why did that demon go after their families??? What the fuck is happening? How many other people are there like Max and Sam out in the world? Will my questions ever be answered? Oh, of course they will, and I’m sure it’ll hurt a lot because THIS IS MY LIFE.

The Other Stuff

I hesitated to put “The Bad” as this header title because it’s not like anything here is awful. This is an incredibly strong episode of the show in every front. It’s entertaining, suspenseful, heartbreaking, serialized, and terrifying all at once. It’s going on all cylinders! This is more about me trying to engage with this story to be a bit pedantic and nitpicky because that’s what I do, and it’s very rewarding to me to view media through various lenses. As I said before, I was pleased by the representation of abuse in this episode, but there was one thing that bugged me.

Now, let me preface this by saying that abuse is a tricky, complicated thing, and there’s no single representation of it that gets everything right all of the time. Even determining what is “right” is a messy thing because people have such varied experiences with it. That being said, I was a little peeved that Mrs. Miller was said to be the “worst” person here. Initially, that’s by the neighbor who said that she was worse than the actual two abusers because she didn’t do anything to stop them. The problem here is that we don’t know nearly enough about Alice Miller to pass any sort of judgment. Did Alice’s husband abuse her, too? Was that why she chose not to stop him? Is that where her fear came from? Or was it disinterest? Was there some other factor at work here? Alice Miller’s characterization suffers from this because she largely exists to be a victim of Max and to give this episode one hell of a grim ending.  Of course, it’s a complicated issue for me on a personal level, too. I’m torn between wanting to understand why Alice Miller did nothing to protect her son and feeling angry that someone who knew Max was being horribly abused did nothing to stop the abuse. Again, without any information, I don’t know how to feel! SO I would have appreciated any character development on her part.

I’m also generally not okay with last-minute suicides to resolve plots, but again, this is more of a personal issue than anything else. This is a remarkably grim and depressing episode for a lot of reason, mainly that Max wasn’t able to find hope in his life at all. Despite that Sam tried so hard to make a connection with this young man, Max really was in too much pain. So, I think Dean is a bit responsible for this in one sense because despite warnings from Sam, he still brought his gun into that house. Sam knew how volatile Max was, and Dean didn’t listen to him. Granted, I understand why Dean felt it necessary to bring something that they could use to their advantage, but it did end up backfiring in a way, you know?

Otherwise, y’all: HOLY SHIT. I guess the show was so hokey and cheesy at first that I never expected an episode like this. Shit is so real! I CAN’T DEAL.

The video commission for “Nightmare” can be downloaded right here.

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About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since '09.
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