I remembered this episode fondly-- and quite clearly too, as I've watched it a good dozen times-- and even after five, six years, it doesn't fail to impress. The characters appear fully formed on the screen, be it Sam-- quiet, restrained, socially awkward but warm none the less-- or Dean-- a dirty flirt whose loyalty to their father, John (merely glimpsed at through flashback this episode), will eventually be his undoing down the line. The whole mission statement for the episode is clear here, and the baggage that would come with later seasons is nowhere to be seen. Thank God for that.
I love this show more than words can do justice, but season after season, especially after (SPOILER!) the death of Azazel (Yellow Eyes), the weight of the show seemed to drag itself down, and the sharper, more defined characteristics (Sam's anger and Dean's self-sacrificing) became exaggerated. Season five went a ways near the end to resolve these tics, but still... the earliest seasons are completely the best (bar the eventual introduction of Castiel. Woof).
As the episode progresses the main characters of Sam and Dean are presented to the viewer, and it's so natural that if you weren't really anal and looking for it, you could miss how subtle a lot of the stuff is. Sam is the researcher, he knows what he's doing when he has to and he's better at it than Dean. Dean is a cocky little bastard who hates authority-- more than likely due to being under the thumb of his father for so long, and instead of thrashing out against him like Sammy did, he's the dutiful son, looking for other ways to rebel.
Anyway, the whole mission statement for the show was established here, and Eric Kripke, the creator, did the job well. Two brothers who had drifted apart due to their differences in views and the pressures of their patriarch are reunited to find their now lost father, and face supernatural evil along the way. How amazing a concept is that? The banter between the two is brilliantly sharp, the music-- and the car, both of them a combined member of the cast, I have to say-- and the threats they face (in this episode, a Woman In White) are suitably creepy. The effects too tend to veer away from being out and out crap, the CGI kept in the shadows for the most part, the score and camera direction and the writing able to wring the threats out for the viewer. The fact that for half the episode we either don't know or don't see what the brothers Winchester are fighting creates an internal tension as the viewer expects the worst-- and as I've always said, the imagination of the viewer is always scarier than whatever the production team puts on screen.
The rules are set out for the brothers: Salt and burn the bones. Remember the earlier episodes when it was all ghosts really, and it was always them running around with salt and lighter fluid? Remember how fun and easy that was? Sure, they had to find the bones (I remember "Asylum", where they were... in a cupboard? Something like that? Or in "Roadkill", under a tree?) but the race against time aspect seemed to up the ante no matter what.
"No chick flick moments." I loved that line when I first heard it uttered by Dean, but as I said earlier, as the seasons progressed the Winchesters were running around teary-eyed and brooding, and it kind of did away with the stiff-upper lip that kept the otherwise dark series walking tall. I liked that. Sure, I love drama and tension, but every third episode the Winchesters were exchanging tissues because their internal anguish got the better of them. Sad times.
I like rules, like I was saying. The boys did their research, they completed the job, and that end reveal with Jess on the ceiling, just like the horribly terrifying opening with their mother? Wow. When I first saw that I remember jumping out of my skin, and sure, the effect has been lost somewhat by frequent viewings but the punch is there, and you can feel it as Dean has to drag his brother, once again, from out of the flames. I love how that's a repeated thing, how Dean will always be the one to try and keep his family safe. And like I said, it's all laid out from the first episode, a perfect how-to on the series for others to follow.
Not the best episode, it takes about... what? Half the season to hit it's stride? I adore "Scarecrow" and most the episodes after, but this is masterful writing, and great direction by David Nutter, with a great turn from future Life star Sarah Shahi as the "villain" of the piece. The story is tight, the implication for future episodes bold and clear, and I can't wait to move forward.