In an abandoned warehouse, Dean is attacked by a djinn he is hunting. He wakes up next to a beautiful girl, and wanders around an unfamiliar apartment. He calls Sam, who is studying his law books, only to find Sam thinks he is drunk. Dean discovers he is in Lawrence, Kansas and drives to his childhood home to find his mother alive. The past has changed – there was no demon attack and no fire. John died the previous year of a stroke, in his sleep.
The next day Dean revels in suburban life, spending time with his mother and mowing the lawn. Sam and Jessica arrive – they have flown in from California for Mary’s birthday. That night at dinner in a restaurant, Sam and Jessica announce their engagement, During the celebrations Dean is distracted when he sees a young woman whom he had glimpsed on the street earlier.
At home, Dean is keen to go out and spend time with his girlfriend, Carmen, and Sam and Jessica. Sam confronts Dean over his behavior - he and Dean are not close, and he doesn’t understand Dean’s friendly demeanor. Back at his apartment, Dean starts enjoying his life with Carmen. However, later that night he sees a news broadcast that leads him to discover that all the people he remembers saving are now dead. The ghostly woman appears to him again, and Dean sees images of dead people in his closet. Distraught, Dean visits John’s grave and anguishes over why it is his job to sacrifice things in order to save people. He comes to an unspoken resolution/realization and walks off.
Dean is caught by Sam as he breaks into Mary’s house to steal a silver knife; Dean pretends that he needs it to pay a gambling debt. Sam insists on accompanying Dean, and they drive to Illinois, to the abandoned warehouse. There they find the girl Dean has been seeing; she is being held captive by the djinn, and she appears to be hallucinating. Dean has flashes of images and he starts to suspect that he too is being held by the djinn and everything he has experienced is an illusion. Dean decides that if he is in a dream and he kills himself he will wake up. Sam tries to dissuade him, and then Mary, Carmen, and Jess appear, imploring him to stay and be happy.
In the real world, Dean wakes up as Sam is rescuing him. The djinn attacks, but Dean kills it. They find the girl Dean kept seeing, weak but still alive. Back in their motel, Dean is still in pain from the life he glimpsed. Sam tries to convince him that all the people they have saved make their sacrifice worthwhile.
(plays when Dean is being tempted to stay in the wish-verse)
Dean: A freaking genie?
Dean: What? You think these suckers can really grant wishes?
Sam: What? What happened?
Dean: Well, the uh, the djinn. It attacked me. Sam: The gin? You're... drinking gin? Dean: No, asshat. The djinn. The... scary creature. Remember? It put its hand on me and then I woke up... next to some hot chick... Sam: Who? Carmen? Dean: Who? Sam: Dean, you're drunk. You're drunk-dialing me.
Dean: I am not drunk. Quit screwing around!
Mary: Carmen just called and said you just... took off all of a sudden.
Dean: Carmen? Right. ... Let me ask you a question. When I was a kid, what did you always tell me when you put me to bed? Mary: Dean, I don't understand - Dean: Just answer the question. Mary: I told you angels were watching over you.
Dean: I don't believe it.
Dean: That lawn looks like it could use some mowing.
Mary: You want to mow the lawn? Dean: You kidding me? I'd love to mow the law.
Mary: Knock yourself out. You'd think you'd never mowed a lawn in your life.
Sam: Okay. What's gotten into you?
Dean: What do you mean? Sam: I mean this whole warm, fuzzy, ecstasy-trip thing. Dean: I'm just happy for you, Sammy.
Sam: Yeah, right. That's another thing. Since when do you call me Sammy?... Dean, come on. We don't talk outside of holidays.
Dean: You got to work now?
Carmen: I told you. I've got the night shifts on Thursday.
Dean: You work nights at the, uh... hospital. I'm dating a nurse. That is so... respectable.
Dean: All of them. Everyone that you saved, everyone Sammy and I saved. They're all dead. And there's this woman that's haunting me. I don't know why. I don't know what the connection is, not yet anyway. It's like my old life is -- is coming after me or something. Like it, like it doesn't want me to be happy. 'Course I know what you'd say. Well, not the you that played softball but... 'So go hunt the djinn. He put you here, it can put you back. Your happiness for all those people's lives, no contest. Right?' But why? Why is it my job to save these people? Why do I have to be some kind of hero? What about us, huh? What, Mom's not supposed to live her life? Sammy's not supposed to get married? Why do we have to sacrifice everything, Dad? It's... Yeah...
Sam: Look, whatever stupid thing you're about to do, you're not doing it alone. And that's that.
Dean: I don't understand. Why you doing this? Sam: Because you're still my brother. Dean: Bitch. Sam: W–What are you calling me a bitch for? Dean: You're supposed to say 'jerk'. Sam: What?
Dean: Never mind.
Mary: Put the knife down, honey.
Dean: You're not real. None of it is. Mary: It doesn't matter. It's still better than anything you had. Dean: What? Mary: It's everything you want. We're a family again. Let’s go home. Dean: I'll die. The djinn'll... drain the life out of me in a couple of days.
Mary: But in here, with us, it'll feel like years. Like a lifetime. I promise. No more pain. Or fear. Just love and comfort. And safety. Dean, stay with us. Get some rest.
Dean: Yeah, I'm all right. You should have seen it, Sam. Our lives. You were such a wussy.
Sam: So we didn't get along then, huh? Dean: Nah. Sam: Yeah... I thought it was supposed to, to be this perfect fantasy. Dean: It wasn't. It was just a wish. I wished for Mom to live. That Mom never died, we never went hunting and you and me just never uh... you know. Sam: Yeah. Well, I'm glad we do. And I'm glad you dug yourself out, Dean. Most people wouldn't've had the strength, would have just stayed. Dean: Yeah... Lucky me. I gotta tell you though, man. You know, you had Jess. Mom was gonna have grandkids... Sam: Yeah, but... Dean... it wasn't real. Dean: I know. But I wanted to stay. I wanted to stay so bad. I mean, ever since Dad... all I c– all I can think about is how much this job's cost us... We've lost so much. We've... sacrificed so much.
Sam: But people are alive because of you. It's worth it, Dean. It is. It's not fair, and... you know, it hurts like hell, but... it's worth it.
Trivia & References
The episode title "What Is and What Should Never Be" references the Led Zeppelin song "What Is and What Should Never Be" from the 1969 album Led Zeppelin II.
Sam: I don't know. I guess they're powerful enough. But not exactly like Barbara Eden in harem pants. I mean, Djinn have been feeding off people for centuries. They're all over the Quran.
Dean: My God. Barbara Eden was hot, wasn't she? Way hotter than that Bewitched chick.
The movie Dean and Carmen apparently fell asleep to (or that they had better things to do than watch) is From Hell It Came (1957).
The episode references the David Lynch film Blue Velvet, a dark film that explores the violence and corruption that lies beneath an idyllic façade of suburbia. The film opens with shots of the perfect town, and we zoom in on a picket fence covered in red roses, where a man is watering his garden -- a perfect happy scene. Suddenly he has a stroke and collapses in pain. As life continues on around him, the camera takes us beneath the surface literally, to the writhing disgusting bugs and decomposition beneath the manicured lawn. This is all referenced in the scene of Dean mowing the lawn, in front of a very similar house, with red roses on the picket fence. We are being told, all is not as it seems, evil lurks behind this scene.
At the beginning of the episode, Dean mentions they've "ditched the plates" referring to the Impala's license plates (a necessity as they know the FBI are tracking them after the events of 2.19 Folsom Prison Blues). During the episode we see the usual plates KAZ 2Y5 have been replaced in the real world with CNK 80Q3 (Ohio plates) and in Dean's fantasy with RMD 5H2 (Kansas plates).
In the alternate reality, Dean wears a silver chain with a pendant rather than his amulet. The pendant could possibly be a St. Michael medallion. If so, this would be foreshadowing.
The date in the alternate reality is December 5th, 2006, as the news reports indicate it is the anniversary of when Flight 424 crashed, and the newspaper Dean looks up indicates the crash happened on December 5th, 2005. However, oddly, Sam's cellphone (just before Dean calls him) shows an email received from Christopher Cooper, dated 3/9/2007 at 2:07 PM.
When Dean wakes up in the alternate reality and calls Sam, there is part of a saved text message visible on his phone which may be to or from Christopher Cooper, and reads: "Hey Dude… How are you doing man? I’m pretty darn good myself. I've been meaning to sit down and write but I’ve been so damn busy. I’ve been meaning to call too but hey what’s a fella to do." Christopher Cooper was property manager on Supernatural from season 1 through 12.
The law book Sam is reading in the alternate reality is written by Kevin Parks who is one of the assistant directors on Supernatural.
Dean's home address in the alternate reality is 53 Barker Avenue, Lawrence, Kansas, 66044. Barker Avenue is a real street in Lawrence, Kansas. However, it does not have a number 53.
On Dean and Carmen's coffee table, there's a copy of the Marvel comic Six from Sirius.
The Winchester home in Lawrence, Kansas, has the house number 1841. This is the house number from 1.01 Pilot reversed. In 1.01 it was 1481.
Mary is wearing the same nightgown she wore when she died in the real world.
John's softball team uniform has a Route 66 patch.
Dean mows the grass on a lush lawn with flowers, but the average weather in Lawrence, Kansas in December would be between 41-48 degrees Fahrenheit or 5-9 degrees Celsius. It can be assumed that this anomaly is part of the djinn magic.
When Jessica and Carmen leave Sam and Dean alone to talk, Sam says: "That's what you said when you snaked my ATM card or when you bailed on my graduation or when you hooked up with Rachel Nave." Rachel Nave was co-writer of 1.08 Bugs. It is later revealed in 5.22 Swan Song that Rachel was possessed by a demon on Azazel's orders, to keep an eye on Sam.
There's a framed poster for the Canadian indie pop band Immaculate Machine in Dean and Carmen's bedroom.
John's gravestone reads: John E. Winchester, 1954 - 2006, Loving Husband and Father, Remembered Forever.
The scene where Sam surprises Dean as he breaks into the house, and they wrestle, is a mirror of the same events in 1.01 Pilot. They even have the same conversation.
Dean's girlfriend Carmen exists outside of the wishverse, as Dean had seen her in an ad for El Sol Beer in a magazine. While inside the djinn's spell, Dean is asked multiple times if he's drunk. He also drinks more than one bottle of beer, and each time, it's an El Sol.
According to Eric Kripke on the Season 2 DVD and Blu-ray commentary, they had difficulty getting Adrianne Palicki due to her shooting schedule on Friday Night Lights. However they felt she was integral to the episode, so they switched from filming this episode to the next one for five days, and then resumed shooting when she was available for the three days they needed.