Note: this summary contains spoilers not just for the recapped episode but also mild spoilers from season four, since I discuss the contrast between “Skin” and later episodes.
This first season episode starts with Iron Butterfly’s pounding “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida” (which, btw, it always takes me a week to get out of my head [oh, won’t you come with me-e-e-e and take my hand…]) and we see that some poor young woman has been tied up and—yikes—cut up. It looks as if her attacker might be coming in for the kill, but an outside shot of the house shows a SWAT team coming to her rescue. The bad guy tries to flee but is stopped at the back door where he turns with hands raised and we discover the bad guy is Dean.
Well, no. I mean, both of the Winchester boys have definitely had their “dark side” moments in four seasons of the show, but no way do I buy that Dean was just sadistically torturing a cute blonde. Hitting on, I could believe—in fact, I would bet on. But hurting? No.
It appears the explanation is going to be complicated since, as the beginning credits roll, we flash to “ONE WEEK AGO.” And the short set-up scene that follows is one of the reasons that I applaud the writers of this show. At a gas station where they’re fueling up the Impala, Sam is using his phone to read emails from college friends. Dean scoffs that Sam is even bothering to keep up with those friends since it’s not like Sam can tell him the truth about where he is, where he came from or, you know, anything. (Sam tried to find that rocky middle ground between truth and lie by simply telling his buddies he needed time off after Jessica’s death and is road-tripping with his big brother.)
The writers on this show excel at characterization and while I wasn’t always crazy about Sam’s character this past season, I recognize how skillfully they set up character arcs and how they brought the brothers full circle. In season 4’s “Jump the Shark,” it’s Sam who gives the speech about cutting away all friends, about how hunters can’t have any “civilians” in their lives. It’s essentially the same point Dean tries to make at the beginning of “Skin,” but when he hears Sam repeat it three years later, Dean looks deeply disturbed by what he once considered good advice.
Meanwhile, back in season 1Sam is deeply disturbed—by an email from a friend named Rebecca whose brother has just been arrested for torturing and killing his girlfriend. Videotaped evidence is damning, but Becky claims to have been with her brother at the time—which means he could only possibly be guilty if he were in “two places at once.” That is enough for Sam to talk Dean into checking it out, although Dean is skeptical that this is a supernatural crime. He gets a lot less skeptical, however, when they view an illegally obtained copy of the video and pause on a not-quite-human gleam of the eye. Sam and Dean debate dark doubles, shape-shifters and all the other usual supernatural suspects.
We get to see the killer in action when he breaks into another apartment and attacks a woman—all while looking identical to her boyfriend. (Dude’s clearly got issues.) The brothers track the as-yet-unidentified-whatever-it-is into the sewers…where they stumble over a thoroughly deees-gusting pile of skin, goo, and body parts. Dean postulates his self-proclaimed “sick thought” that maybe this particular monster actually sheds its host body when it’s done with it. Eew, and now I have issues.
The brothers are separated chasing it and when they reunite, Sam is suspicious that “Dean” is actually shapeshifter Dean. Which seems an accurate guess when “Dean” knocks him over the head.
Sam wakes up in the sewer, tied up, while Dean rants at him. It seems that the shifter in its borrowed skin also gets borrowed memories and emotions and pseudo-Dean (who, btw, is just as hot as the real one) unloads a barrel of resentment on Sam that at least SAM got to go to college and have a chance at a life. A chance Dean never got.
I always wondered in the post-hell-angst of season 4 whether or not Dean resented the sacrifice he made on his brother’s behalf. (Which, technically, wouldn’t be fair since Sam never asked for that, but one does wonder…)
When pseudo-Dean goes off to kill Becky (the blonde from the first few minutes), the two brothers (Dean was tied up and unconscious only a few yards away) manage to escape the sewers. Becky is seemingly saved but there’s a twist at the end when Becky herself turns out to be the dark double and must be killed. At the end, the shifter is killed wearing Dean’s face, making him (temporarily) dead as far as the police are concerned.
At the end, Dean allows that maybe it’s good that Sam still has connections.
Of course, this is when Sam’s connections are still college buddies and not demonesses whose blood he’s drinking…
So, aside from the notable ick factor, what did you think of the episode and, especially, what it tells us about the brothers’ relationship?