Ooh, another one of these things! XD Spoilers, so on and so forth. :)
So, of the four shapeshifter-centric episodes in Supernatural, this one is my least favorite---but only because the other three deliver me some of my all-time favorite side characters (Ronald and Victor in "Nightshifter", Jamie in "Monster Movie", and Bobby John in "Two and a Half Men"). In other words, this episode rocks my socks away, because holy fuck, but I think my favorite 'monsters' in Supernatural may in fact be the shapeshifters.
Can we talk about how much I love what Supernatural has done with shapeshifters? Because I really, really, really love this show's spin on them. Excluding the one in "Nightshifter", most of them actually have personalities and, you know, are characters, with (heartbreaking) backstories and feelings and motivations and fuck, but I adore them. And as they go, this shifter in "Skin" can't compete with the likes of Bobby John (who I swear is like the biggest thing on my Want list) or the Dracula shifter in "Monster Movie" when it comes to my love, but it's still one of my favorite monsters in season 1, and even when the whole series is taken into consideration, it probably doesn't slide too far down the list.
This is also the first episode since "Dead in the Water" where we get to really peel back a few more layers of the onion that is Dean Winchester, and, well, Lord knows that I'm always up for that. ^^
This episode was written by John Shiban.
Man, where to even begin when talking about an episode like this one?
Well, I suppose we can start at the beginning, with our fakeout of Dean cutting up some woman and apparently getting apprehended by the police. I'm pretty sure that this is the first episode that employs this in medias res kind of narrative technique, yeah? Which I suppose is only fitting, seeing as the general theme of shapeshifters and this episode is that nothing is ever what it seems. That there's no such thing as only being skin-deep in this episode. I mean, this is even reflected in the kinds of locations and sets used in the episode: Becky's house, with it's cavernous rooms, vaulted ceilings, and sweeping staircase, and the parents living half the year in France, and yet there is nothing shallow about Becky or the relationship that she has with her brother, for whom she put her future on hold so she could support him; totally not the kind of thing you'd expect from some pretty rich blonde who lives in a stereotypical mansion like that. Then there's the sewer, and how Dean and Sam realize that they should not be looking towards the open sky, but instead plumbing the depths that are just below the surface at their feet.....
This episode is just really good about carrying thematic elements all the way across the board, you know?
Then we get to cut over to our dear Sam, trying to keep in contact with his friends and yet all the while lying to them, as the Show gives us another highlight of the disconnect between the way each Winchester brother deals with the relationships in their lives. Is it wrong of Sam to want to keep in contact with the friends that he made at Stanford? No, of course not. But what do you do when you feel that your friends are part of a world that can't be reconciled with the world that makes up another part of your identity, and that also happens to be an identity that you're embracing at the moment? I suppose that there isn't really a right or easy answer to this question. Because yeah, it sucks that Sam is lying to his friends and can't and won't trust them with the Hunting aspects of his life, but Dean's philosophy of "don't get close enough or attached to anyone so that they can't hurt you" isn't all that much better. And in the end, I just sit over here and grump about the fact that the only friends the boys have are those they bond with through shared trauma, and that they leave behind the ones that are still relatively unfucked up (like Sarah Blake, Jamie, etc) and never see those ones again. And then I cry, because fuck if the boys don't do that on purpose, and that the reason that they do is because they're honestly too damaged to truly be able to stomach 'normality', and at least subconsciously, they know that. (Or else in Dean's case, whenever he's tried he's ultimately been rejected, like with Cassie and Lisa.)
Um, I feel that I've veered off track a little. The point is that Sam is lying, trying to pretend and become someone else because what he is hated, feared, and misunderstood by normal society, and all Sam has ever wanted is to try and fit in. Sam is basically trying on the 'skin' of "Joe College"---except that he can't hold onto the lie forever, and just like how shapeshifters can't stop their eyes from flashing and betraying them, Sam can't suppress his soul and true self, and that will eventually shine through the lies.
There's a reason, however (apart from the one I pointed out in my last entry on "Bloody Mary", about how Sam can't be a hero and save people when he can't accept himself and isn't doing it for the right reasons), that the shapeshifter in "Skin" becomes Dean, and not Sam. Because unlike Sam, who tries to be like other people to hide himself and fit in, Dean lies and takes on other identities with a purpose, as does the shapeshifter. This shifter uses its disguises and personas to hunt, to go through society to get closer to its prey, because there is a task it wants to accomplish, a job to do; it really doesn't have much to do with identity issues, like Sam and the Dracula shifter, or even Bobby John. Likewise, Dean doesn't take on a false persona to try and find himself, like Sam did with Stanford, Flagstaff, or in "Free to Be You and Me" or in the year between seasons 7 and 8, and nor does Dean do it to try and get close and make emotional connections with people, like the Dracula shifter wanted to do with Jamie. No. Dean's myriad aliases and identities are always about the hunt, about getting the job done and killing monsters preying on the innocent.
It's just a bit unfortunate that we didn't really get to hear about why this shifter in "Skin" chose to go after women and beat and kill them while wearing the skins of their lovers; each shifter we see gets to exercise their agency in a different way (the one in "Nightshifter" chose to become a trusted employee and then rob a place, Dracula in "Monster Movie" was inspired by the great monsters and trying to build an identity based on that kind of borrowed glory, and hoping that it would transfer to itself, and in "Two and a Half Men", the shifters were concentrating on bulking up their population in response to Eve) with only hints to the systematic abuse that apparently drove them into lashing back out---but the specifics of each story aren't given to us. Why women, why robbery, why this apparent species-wide obsession with trust issues---we'll probably never know. But it's enough for me, to know that the possibility for underlying story exploration still exists.
Plus, I kind of feel that the shifter in "Skin" is meant more to be a commentary on our society's rape culture, and how legitimately scary it is how many men are subconsciously conditioned to think along the entitled lines that the shifter does. (The creep factor of this entitlement in the "Skin" shifter seriously wanes my pity towards him. The Dracula shifter in "Monster Movie" is much more sympathetic, to me, to say nothing of poor Bobby John.) Like most of the monsters, in season 1 especially, it's a caricature, and that's why we don't truly get a fully characterized shifter until season 4's "Monster Movie"---coincedentally, this is also the season that we get Castiel, a creature who despite being so gets a character arc, and one of the few long-standing characters left (he's really only beaten out by Sam, Dean, and Meg).
I suppose the overall point of the shapeshifter, and really why I love them so, is because they're thematically appropriate for all of Supernatural: there's monsters inside all of us, if you dig down deep enough----hell, I think I've heard that according to the Bible, we're all born with Original Sin that we can never get rid of. But even so, we still all have agency, can choose to be whoever we want to be, even though we can't control what we are.
And since we can choose who we want to be, we can also choose who we want to share that person with.
In the end, Team Free Will, right?