Remember, the power doesn't control you – you control it.
It's a regular Sunday mass in Mason City, Iowa until Olivia Sanchez painfully walks in. Wounds from her hands and feet bleed with every step until she is suddenly whipped across her back by an unseen force. She collapses in front of the altar where she speaks in tongues to the priest and dies. The next day, the Winchesters show up to ask questions. At first, the priest doesn't want to give any of the details but Dean is in no mood to waste time and gets what he wants. After that, they head over to the morgue to view the body and discover that Olivia appears to have had some of the signs of the stigmata except the coroner found that her brain was basically mush that oozed out of her. Sam notices that Dean has been noticeably short with everyone since their mom left; dean says it's nothing but Sam can see through it. They go to Olivia's former office and learn that she worked for child services but it wasn't always a happy ending if her recommendation would displace a child from their family. The woman taking her place, Beth, is a Wiccan and Dean immediately thinks something is up. Beth tells them about one of Olivia's more difficult cases in the Petersons. The family is quite religious and tensions rose when their daughter, Magda, became ill with pneumonia and died when the family refused to take her for medical treatment. The Winchesters head over to the Petersons and each sees a different side of the family. Dean spends time with the father, Abraham, who appears to be a loving man that wanted to get his family away from the mainstream chaos. Sam's experience is quite different when he spends time with Mother, whose religious faith stems from a near fatal car accident from years ago. After a short confrontation, the boys get kicked out of the house and are left divided on what to do next. Dean is sure that it's the Wiccan, Beth, but Sam is convinced that the mother left an angry ghost behind in her daughter. Only one of them can be right and after a second death in town, neither can afford to be wrong.
Featuring its fair share of highs and lows, American Nightmare was a good episode from Supernatural that is held back by a lack of focus and obvious red herrings. From the moment we are introduced to the Peterson family, we know that they have something to do with the strange deaths that have been taking place in Mason City. The mother was a character that couldn't be trusted and her faith made her the obvious mark as the antagonist of the episode. While it was a good surprise that Magda was alive, the deaths of the Olivia and the delivery boy never felt connected to the story in a meaningful way. Olivia's death was violent and marked with the religious significance of the stigmata wounds while the delivery boy died from lashes on his back. Magda never experienced the stigmata wounds herself so Olivia's death being so elaborate didn't lead to a greater payoff that we were expecting.
Though it could have easily been a mess, the dinner scene with Petersons was the highlight of American Nightmare. Starting with Sam being tied up in the basement (it's starting to become a theme), it was a nice touch that even with Magda's punishment she was still brought upstairs for a family dinner. Then Mother's fanaticism came out as she killed her husband by poisoning his food and wanted everyone to share in the meal. Her insistence that her family remain together no matter what was terrifying and sad in such a short amount of time. The culmination of the scene with Elijah's death and Magda's use of her abilities was a strong end to the scene and showed that Magda wasn't the devil her morther believed her to be.
While it may lead to a better introduction in the future, the partial reveal of Mr. Ketch left a lot to be desired from a story and cinematic perspective. His initial drive by to see the Impala felt out of place and only distracted us from the story with the Petersons. Unfortunately, the final scene where he killed Magda felt clumsy at best. All we needed to see was him tightening the silencer as Magda walked into the washroom. The sound of the gun and the shot of Magda lying on the floor didn't add to the scene or the episode as a whole.
Overall, American Nightmare had some great ideas that were bogged down by Dean chasing an obvious dead end, a lack of coherence. I'm sure we'll be in for a treat when Hitler returns in The One You've Been Waiting For.