The last two episodes of S1 basically make a two-parter, even if they aren’t identified that way. “Dead Man’s Blood” isn’t part of that, but given the things which appear in it, it’s very much the staging ground for the season finale. And the elements here aren’t just important for that finale; they reverberate for years afterward.
The most obvious element I’m referring to is the Colt. It’s a useful plot device: a weapon that can kill anything, but has a limited number of uses. In the long term that limit gets mucked with, of course, but in the short term, every time somebody pulls the trigger, it’s a significant choice. It’s Jack Sparrow and “this bullet is not meant for you,” except even bigger, because Jack’s decision to save that bullet is ultimately just a matter of personal idiosyncracy. Without the rounds for the Colt, the Winchesters have no way to get vengeance on their enemy.
(I am still sad I never got an episode in which Sam Elliott played Samuel Colt. That is something the universe really ought to have given me.)
This episode also introduces the notion of other hunters. We’ve had a passing reference here and there — I think Dean said something about Pastor Jim at one point — but Elkins is the first one we actually see. It sets up a larger world in which the Winchesters are not the only people who know about monsters, the only ones trying to do something about it. Furthermore, it confirms the aesthetic that says the people who do this kind of thing are not playboy billionaires with high-tech Batcaves. Like the Winchesters, they’re just ordinary people, making do with what they can pull together for the fight.
Really, though, as with “Something Wicked,” the most important thing here is the Winchester family.
I said before that it’s an interesting choice to have certain archetypes cross-cut each other in the protagonists. Dean is the bad boy and also the obedient son; Sam is the good guy and also the rebel. He’s the one who pushes a confrontation with John here, refusing to follow orders until John shares some of what he knows. And Dean, in his turn, is the one who plays peacemaker, placing himself in the middle to try and defuse the conflict. I don’t think it’s reading too much into the scene to say that for Dean, watching his father and his brother go for each other’s throats is much worse than facing down monsters. Fundamentally, those two are all Dean has. If his family falls apart, he’s got nothing.
But Dean has started to grow as a person, thanks to John’s absence and Sam at his side. He starts out by telling Sam to stand down, but winds up saying the same thing to his father. And ultimately, of course, he and Sam disobey John’s orders, first arguing about the plan and then coming to help him in the final showdown. Sam grows, too: he reconciles with John, which is important given what’s about to happen in the next two episodes. In retrospect, it’s ironic to hear John say that he never wanted this life for his sons; Mary felt the same way. And it’s of a piece with the bits we’ve gotten before that John says his fixation when Sam left was on the fact that his son would be alone and vulnerable. Sammy is the one he protects, after all. But it isn’t quite true to say they’re alike now, because Sam has a brother at his side — an equal. John had only sons, and as we can see here, he has a hard time treating them as partners rather than subordinates. (Man, it hurts when he yells at Dean for not taking good enough care of the Impala. We’re far enough into S1 that I suspect most viewers feel the identification between Dean and the car, and so to find out that he got it from Dad, and to be accused of mistreating it, makes that moment really harsh. You can imagine it contributes to Dean coming around to Sam’s point of view, that their father is treating them like children and needs to stop.)
It’s a watershed episode on a character level. John admits they were right to disobey him, and says “we’re stronger as a family.” (More on that in my next post.) Their response is still “yes, sir” — there’s still a hierarchy here — but the dynamic has become a more functional one. Which means everything is in place for the end of the season, and the beginning of the next one.