The Winchesters – Season 1 Episode 2
“Teach Your Children Well”
The Winchesters has the team chase down a potential clue to Samuel’s whereabouts as Mary and John consider the shadows their parents cast.
Supernatural had a simple formula in its early days that worked well. Sam and Dean retracing their father’s steps would put them onto cases to investigate and the episode would play out from there. Usually, those cases would defy their experience and knowledge in some way which would force them to adapt and a lot of the time they would learn something about themselves that they had to deal with. The Winchesters is starting with a similar approach by tweaking the winning formula to suit the setup of this show and form the basis of the storytelling.
The case in question leads them to track down a La Tunda; a plant-based supernatural creature that lures disobedient children into the woods and feeds on them. It’s an obvious yet neat link to John and Mary’s relationships with their parents. For symmetry, Mary is at odds with her father and John is at odds with his mother though his relationship with his father also comes into it. Both are wrestling with the weight of expectation they have wrongly placed on themselves to live up to particular examples. Mary wants to equal her father’s skill as a hunter and John is chasing approval from an absentee father which causes him to project that onto his mother.
John is plagued by self-doubt throughout the episode. Dialogue details that it has been weeks since the previous episode and there has been a lot of fruitless searching. John is frustrated with himself for failing to track down Samuel because finding people was his job when he was in the military so he should at least be good at that even if he’s still finding his feet in the world of the Supernatural. Mary assures him that he’s doing a good job and that he shouldn’t be so hard on himself which provides the first hint at her leadership capabilities through her offering encouragement and showing empathy. There’s a strong implication that Samuel didn’t display those qualities so Mary has to realise where she differs and how those differences make her effective when leading others.
John and Mary differ significantly in how their relationships with their parents are explored. Mary is unable to interact with Samuel and discuss the doubts she’s having whereas John has several conversations with Millie (Bianca Kajlich) allowing them to work through their issues. Their first conversation sets up what they need to work through with Millie being worried that her son will stop coming home just as her husband did. This comes from a place of maternal concern motivated by bitter experience but John takes it as a lack of confidence in him. It’s an overreaction brought on by his own self-doubt. Both are in a heightened emotional state and their first interaction sets up a need for both of them to take a step back in order to communicate more effectively.
Millie’s perspective shifts after a conversation with Ada (Demetria McKinney). She is told that John takes after her in ways she doesn’t yet realise and she’s encouraged to see things from John’s point of view as well as trust in his judgement. The Millie/John relationship sets The Winchesters apart from Supernatural in a fundamental way as parental relationships in that show were largely absent and the focus was on what the absence of the parental figures does to the children. As the show progressed, Sam and Dean had more opportunity to forge more complete relationships with their parents but the lack of parental support and the inability to address that was a foundational element of their characters. John is unique in that he has access to his mother so things don’t have to remain unsaid and both are open to building a healthy open connection.
John’s conversation with the La Tunda posing as Millie acts as a dry run for the more level-headed conversation he’ll have with the real thing later in the episode. The La Tunda tries to shake him by preying on his fear of his father having no faith in him. It’s something that he’s wrestling with so it’s a valid attack but John started to realise that external belief isn’t important because self-belief is all he needs. He also demonstrates that his instincts are sharp when he realises that he isn’t talking to his mother though the realisation comes too late to prevent him from being kidnapped.
Fighting the La Tunda externalises John’s inner conflict. Taking the form of his mother is a very clear indication of that and allows John to literally defeat the issues he has relating to her. It’s very on the nose but also very effective and makes the plot feel relevant to his arc. The resolution is that he gets the assurance that his mother believes in him and they collectively pledge to have an open relationship where nothing is left unsaid. They share that regret where John’s father is concerned and they’re both committed to ensuring their connection doesn’t become that. It’s a satisfying conclusion to a neatly laid-out character arc.
Mary’s relationship with her father is more complex as she isn’t able to communicate with him. She is struggling with her desire to live up to his example and doesn’t consider that there’s a better way to do things. It’s called out very early on when Carlos doesn’t respond favourably to her commands. Later he likens the team dynamic to a band with Mary forcing herself into the position of lead vocals without having the interests of the band at heart. It’s a reasonable analogy but the conflict feels manufactured because not enough is known about Carlos or his background to indicate where this viewpoint came from. Similarly, the idea of Mary idolising her father isn’t a strong enough fact to organically facilitate her arc for the episode. It’s something that may have worked better if there had been at least an episode setting up the lack of cohesion in the group dynamic as Mary made mistakes as a leader. It would add texture to the conflict rather than it being a self-contained single-episode lesson.
Carlos constantly doubles down on his viewpoint and refuses to budge on it. This indicates he fully believes in what he’s saying and that Mary needs to change her approach so that the team can be fully effective. She makes decisions based on what she thinks and doesn’t stop to consider alternatives. This turns out to be a significant error on her part as she spends the bulk of the episode assuming that they’re dealing with a Mimic even though there’s constantly mounting evidence that they’re dealing with something else. Mary needs to make a huge mistake to be shaken out of her wrongheaded leadership style though this example strays into questioning her competence as she was exposed to enough contrary information for her to reasonably doubt her own assumptions. In order to make the point more effectively there should have been subtleties noticed by Carlos and Lata that she disregards rather than the constant onslaught of evidence that she needs to rethink her assumption.
As a result, the lesson being learned isn’t as powerful as it should be because the episode demanded a profound realisation that she should be listening to those around her but that wasn’t what was delivered. It’s also somewhat concerning that she may have nailed leadership after only two episodes which crosses off a major development point for the rest of the season. Demonstrating that she has the potential without realising it would have been enough for this episode with upcoming episodes being spent building to her realising that relying on those around her was essential to form an arc for Mary to follow. It could be that something more interesting will follow but this was undeniably rushed.
The Winchesters struggles a little with storytelling. It’s all well constructed and the character development links to the main plot but the development of the plot itself is very by the numbers and does little to hide the formula. It will be especially evident to fans of Supernatural though it’s likely new viewers will see the scaffolding. The show does have a lot of personality which prevents it from being frustratingly formulaic and the winks to Supernatural aren’t obnoxious. Debuting the standard tactic of using disguises to investigate the situation feels organic while also being a respectful nod to the parent show. Mary using musician names is something that will come to be favoured by Dean so it was a nice touch to see that it came from Mary. Storytelling is something that may be ironed out as the writers find their feet with the show.
A competent episode that excels in the exploration of John’s arc and makes good use of the well-worn storytelling formula enjoyed by its parent show. John being plagued by self-doubt due to feeling that he hasn’t succeeded as a Hunter works really well and forms a good starting point for his arc. His interactions with his mother provide an opportunity to explore the difficulties they have seeing eye to eye. The resolution when it comes is satisfying and overall gives the show something to set itself apart from its parent show. Mary’s arc doesn’t work quite as well because Carlos opposing her approach to leadership comes from nowhere and it’s resolved in a haphazard way. Mary ignores overwhelming evidence in service of having her accept that she has to listen to those around her. It’s a situation that demanded more subtlety to make its point and for Mary learning the lesson to be more profound. In general the show does little to hide the storytelling formula though its abundance of personality goes some way towards making up for it. Nods to Supernatural aren’t obnoxious. Storytelling is something that may be ironed out as the writers find their feet with the show.
- John being plagued by self-doubt setting up the arc that he follows
- the strong scene where Mary encourages him
- the evolution of John and Millie’s interactions from confrontational to understanding and the development being satisfying
- John’s conversation with the La Tunda acting as a dry run for the more level-headed confrontation to come later
- showing his instincts to be sharp when he realises he isn’t talking to his mother
- the first hint at Mary’s leadership potential through her being encouraging and showing empathy
- the idea of Mary being a better leader by understanding that she needs to value the opinions of those around her
- the respectful nod to Supernatural with the disguises and musician names as aliases
- the storytelling being by the numbers and doing little to hide the formula
- Carlos’ objection to Mary’s leadership style coming from nowhere
- a rushed resolution to Mary’s leadership weaknesses
- Mary learning the lesson being less than profound
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