This is one of the most important episodes of Season 2 with regard to significance and themes that continue through to Season 9. It also has some very memorable scenes; the icon which I often use for these rewatches above, and also the first gif on the side bar are two of my favorite scenes in the season, and maybe in the whole of the series. It is also full of good music.
"Wheel in the Sky" by Journey
(plays during recap of previous events)
"Back in Black" by AC/DC
(plays during the opening scene as Sam and Dean are driving in the repaired Impala)
"Time and Time Again" by Long John Hunter
(plays at the bar when the boys meet Eli)
"Golden Rule" by Lil' Ed & the Blues Imperials
(plays while Dean, Sam, and Gordon hang out at the bar)
"Funny Car Graveyard" by Lee Rocker
(plays when Sam calls Ellen and asks about Gordon)
I remember reading a review of the episode at the forums of Supernatural.TV and someone commenting excitedly about the series use of Wheel in the Sky. It is an interesting use of the song too if you think of the song used for the recap for Everyone Loves a Clown - the theme of "time" carried on.
After the recap, we have the usual introduction of the MoTW, and as usual we are led to believe the killer is the monster. It is later that we find out the victim was a vampire. That first scene gives quite a first impression doesn't it? Makes us feel sorry for the victim. I think the makers were aiming for that too. Trying to show a hunter's kill from the perspective of the hunted - an innocent hunted. Is anyone reminded of Faith, with those people running from the reaper? It also reminds me of an episode in Season 8 where innocent vampires were being killed.
We next come to Sam and Dean cruising down the road in the IMPALA! It's back. Back in black. Despite hanging on the noose, it has risen from the dead - it has nine lives - as the song goes. I can almost see it as the car itself singing that song. Dean is in high heaven. His car is back and they are on the way to a job with severed heads and drained cows, which they think may be a sign of satanic ritual. Finally, something to get his mind off dad's death and what he told him.
"If you two want to get a room, just let me know, Dean"
When they get to Red Lodge Montana, they first go to the police to see what they think of the deaths, and the cow drainings. When they ask their last question on whether the police think there is a connection, the sheriff thinks they are joking.
Sheriff: "You're not kidding."
They then go to the morgue to get a look at the body and search for signs of the satanic ritual. They dispense with the assistant and go to look at the body. Dean tries to get Sam to do all the dirty work - calling him a wuss (kind of reminding me of bugs). He asks him to look in the mouth to see if they can find anything - like in the movies.
"Put the lotion in the basket."
While Sam is grossing out, Dean finds signs of the retractable fangs/teeth of the vampire - which changes things considerably. They go to the local bar to investigate and pay the bartender (who turns out to be a vampire himself - and seen again in Season 8 as Benny) to get info on which turns out to be a bunch of hippies. As they go out the door, they, I guess, have noticed that the guy who was sitting drinking beer by himself is now gone and guess that he is going to be following them. They jump him in the alley (can't imagine how they did it but cool anyway)
They need to see whether he is a vampire. When they find out Gordon is actually a hunter and he finds out they are the famous Winchesters (a surprise to Dean and Sam that they and their dad are well known among the other hunters), they have a good-natured talk but, Gordon tells them he would rather work on his own on this vampire case and refuses their help. I have to include a scene from here because I think it is a beautiful picture of Sam and Dean as they watch Gordon drive away.
The fact that Dean and Sam don't know about other hunters and what they were saying (also seen in Everybody Loves a Clown when Ellen indicates they know quite a bit about John's demon hunt) possibly shows their sheltered upbringing under their dad's protection. It is quite possible that dad kept the knowledge from them to protect them from knowledge of the Yellow Eyed Demon for Sam's sake, and also to protect them from other hunters that might not think well of a child that had a connection with the YED. I also like to think that the reason why he had a "falling out" with so many hunters was because he didn't necessarily agree with their methods, which I'd like to go into a little more later.
I don't know why they decide to track Gordon - maybe Dean can't let the case go or maybe they just think it is dangerous for him on his own and they could back him up (like they did dad) but they end up being at the place Gordon tries to kill his next vampire. We find that this vampire either runs or works at this mill(?) - in other words, he has a steady job. I don't think this made much of an impression on me the first time around, but now, it reinforces the fact that these vampires were trying to live normal lives, blend in. Gordon almost doesn't make it. Dean saves his life and kills the vampire without thought or remorse. His face as he turns around is without emotion. Sam gets really worried seeing Dean like this. He is different.
Gordon is thrilled. Maybe he didn't expect to find a "kindred soul" in Dean because of their reputation, but now he is very friendly. They go out for drinks and celebrate the kill - which is rather an uncomfortable thought for Sam. He maybe feels kind of sick of the way the vampire was killed and is worried about Dean. I don't know if Dean feels this, but he tries to reassure Sam. He calls him Sammy - Gordon picks up on that and gets rebuffed.
"He's the only one that gets to call me that."
Dean's mouth quirks up just a little when he hears that.
Sam is not happy, not just about Dean, but about Gordon. Maybe he senses there is something wrong with him, and he feels uncomfortable celebrating after that scene so he goes back to their room - after Dean tells him "remind me to beat the buzz-kill out of you when I get back." It is almost like Dean is trying to act cool in front of Gordon - showing off. As Dean talks hunter talk with Gordon, he confides that he is hiding from Sam how hard he is taking dad's death. Gordon tells him that the hole he feels inside can be filled by killing monsters. He talks of how he sees the hunter's life as being black and white. There is no grey like in the normal life. Either monster or human - evil or good. To this, Dean replies that Sam might not agree. Gordon tells Dean that Sam is different from them and that they are similar. Dean seems to like this idea.
In the meantime, Sam is back at his room and calls up Ellen. His suspicions are confirmed when she tells him to stay away from Gordon. It is interesting she doesn't tell him why, except to tell him that Gordon is a danger to everyone around him. Sam goes out to get a drink at the dispenser and senses someone stalking him. He gets inside and feels a moment of relief before two vampires jump him. He puts up a pretty good fight but is no match for two and he is taken hostage.
Lenora, the head of this nest it seems, tells him about how the vampires in her nest are not killing humans and are drinking animal blood to survive. Although Sam doesn't believe her sincerity at first, he is convinced when they let him go without a scratch. When he takes Dean aside and tells him, Dean cannot accept it. Even when Sam tells him what Ellen had said, he would rather believe Gordon, with whom he has bonded over drinks. Sam tells him how unreasonable he is being and suggests it is because he is trying to find a replacement for dad in Gordon - a poor replacement. All this does not help change Dean's mind on the hunt, and mention of dad gives him the excuse to punch Sam but Sam just says calmly that Dean hitting him will not change anything. Dean is intent on going with Gordon to find the nest without Sam but, when they find that Gordon has taken off with their keys, he maybe starts getting a little suspicious.
I wonder how Gordon got to the nest so fast. Maybe he already knew where it was and had not told Dean? But Sam's "tracking" skills gets Dean and Sam to the nest in a hurry to find Gordon torturing Lenora as to the whereabouts of the other members of her nest. Dean is shocked by Gordon's cruel methods but the thing that changes his mind I think is the knowledge that Gordon had killed his own sister because she had been turned. The importance of family to him maybe made him realize that Gordon was nothing like him. He tries to stop Gordon. Gordon, who feels it is necessary to enlighten them to the fact that all vampires are the same - monsters that deserve to die- tries to show Dean that even Lenora would not hesitate to drink Sam's blood if she had the chance. Lenora is able to resist her urge, however, which clinches things for Dean. He tells Sam to get Lenora out of the house and to safety. There is a showdown between Dean and Gordon which is pretty cool to see as Dean gets the best of Gordon. We can feel Dean's disappointment in Gordon - that he was not the kind of man Dean thought he was. As he ties Gordon up he says, "You know, I might be like you, and I might not. But you're the one tied up right now. " (Which kind of reminds us of a later episode)
He gives Gordon one last punch before they leave.
"It's been real..." (educational?)
I love Sam's face here. As if he's saying, "Sorry, Gordon. Dean gets like this sometimes and I really can't stop him." or some such. He is proud and relieved to find Dean back to his reasonable self and able to save those vampires who had done nothing to deserve Gordon's cruel treatment.
As they go outside, Dean asks Sam to give him a punch back but Sam is in no mood for that.
"Clock me one." (I'm sorry)
"I'll take a rain check." (It's OK)
Sam just seems relieved to have a reasonable Dean back.
Dean then tells Sam that this realization that the monster world is not black and white has really messed up his perception of things. He wonders if there might have been those who did not deserve to die among all those they had killed. That dad had raised them to hate all monsters so much that he had not felt any remorse on killing the previous vampire. Sam assures Dean that dad was just doing his best after mom's death, and that Dean had done the right thing here, and that was all that mattered.
So we come back to Gordon's perception that everything to do with monsters is black and white. Many hunters believe this, as we will see in future episodes. Dad taught Dean to hate monsters and Dean had not considered until now that there might be a grey area, but this experience changes him. I'd like to suggest though that John was not like the other hunters either. Even though he might have taught Dean to shoot first ask questions later, one of the reasons he had a falling out with some of those hunters was that he could not accept their way of looking at things. I think that having Sam as his son made him also believe that it was possible to save someone like him. That not all monsters were evil. The fact that Gordon did not trust Dean and Sam when they first met and he found out they were the Winchesters kind of ties in with the idea that when he met John, he found John did not think of things the way he did. It is significant too that John had a falling out with his first mentor who was a vampire hunter, and when he went after the vampires that killed his friend, his intent was not to kill them all, but just to get the colt back.
The theme of "grey" continues to play a big role in episodes and seasons to come in relation to the theme "it's not what you are, it's what you do." The theme which starts out as one concerning other monsters, ends up also being about Sam himself, who always felt like a freak and was able to feel compassion and understanding toward others who were in the same situation. But it doesn't end there. John and Mary's decisions and actions were both bad and good - they may have traumatized their children but also made them strong to withstand the evil round them. Dean himself makes a deal with a demon to save his brother and it is hard to say whether that was right or wrong. Later on, we see that even angels and demons were not black and white. This conflict is one of the things that makes the show so worth watching, I guess.