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TV Review: Supernatural – “A Little Slice of Kevin”

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I had a curious reaction to this week’s “A Little Slice of Kevin.” The episode finally revealed Jeremy Carver’s plans for the myth arc, and the potential is clear and intriguing. Writers Eugenie Ross-Leming and Brad Buckner also nicely wove in to the action the main theme of the season: perception, how we shape it and it shapes us. Add to that the well done return of Castiel to the main story line and there was a lot to like about “A Little Slice of Kevin.” And yet, well, there was an “And yet . . .” for me.

I decided to watch the episode a couple more times before writing my review, to try and get a good handle on my reaction. I’m glad I did, because I liked the episode more on the rewatch. I also put my finger on what bothered me. Since there was so much that worked in the story, I’m going to start with the positive elements.

I loved the return to the myth arc. Supernatural benefits from having a clear quest to give the season forward momentum. Season seven suffered from a lack of focus, despite having many fine episodes when viewed as stand alones. Story lines started and sputtered out, only to revive too late to develop any nuance. Season eight’s quest to close the gates of hell should propel the action very nicely and the promise of further tablets to protect mankind should fuel further seasons, provided this quest is well handled.

Jensen Ackles and Jared PadaleckiPart of handling the myth arc well includes being able to develop the character arcs within it. This episode gets full marks for showing how the theme of perception infuses Dean’s and Castiel’s stories. I did miss Sam’s story not getting the same kind of attention, as I dearly would like to know if my perception of the weakness of his motivation for not looking for Dean is right on target, because we cannot fully trust Sam’s perception.

Is it possible the angels are up to no good and are playing with Sam’s perceptions? Are my questions about Sam’s personal arc the very ones the writers want me to have? I hope the answer is yes, but so far, I don’t have the kind of story beats that are driving my perceptions of Dean’s and Castiel’s arcs. I think the writers left letting the audience in on Sam’s story line in season six too late, to that season’s detriment. I hope they aren’t going down the same path this year.

We did get a really good look at how Dean’s and Cas’ perceptions are both empowering them and weakening them, depending on whether the perception draws on a strong point or a weak spot. The episode starts with a great hint Dean may not be able to trust what he thinks he knows when he is not sure whether he’s seeing or hallucinating Castiel. Sam shows he’s trying his best to support Dean when he tells him he can’t get caught up in survivor’s guilt. Dean’s weak point has always been his willingness to hold himself to an impossible standard when it comes to saving people. He’s never been able to let himself off the hook when it comes to his own perceived failings.

And he is sure he failed his friend. It is perfectly in character for Dean to ignore Castiel’s repeated point that he may not be able to pass through the portal. Dean overrides Castiel’s rather foreboding “If it doesn’t work, thank you for everything,” with a firm “No one gets left behind!” The elder Winchester’s plot line is so opposite to Sam’s as Dean sweeps away any desire for a hallmark goodbye moment that I can only hope this symmetry has a clear purpose we will come to understand.

There is definitely symmetry to Dean’s reunions with the characters he loves. Not only did he have a disconcerting reconnection with Sam, he now has a less than satisfying reunion with Cas. His gut tells him something is off about his friend’s story. The writers give us some great foreshadowing when Cas says, “I’m dirty,” and Dean replies, “Purgatory will do that to you.”

The scene is a great contrast to Dean‘s flashback scene with Benny, when the vampire says softly, “You got a lot of trust in you, brother.” In Dean’s eyes, Benny has earned that trust, which makes his growing lack of trust in Cas all the more poignant. Are Dean’s perceptions of his friends’ motives sound? Who should he be trusting? I’m very happy to wait and allow this story to play out, in a way that I’m finding difficult with Sam, because it is so clear any doubts I have are there for a reason and will be explored.

In fact, we got some great exploration in this episode. Dean’s gut pings when Cas explains he doesn’t remember how he got out of Purgatory. Dean knows Cas could not have fought his way out alone, so it stands to reason he had some help. He may not know the facts, but Dean’s intuition seldom lets him down. He’s sure enough something is wrong in the state of Denmark to tell his brother, “I’m saying something else happened.”

Jensen Ackles and Misha CollinsHowever, Dean is also sure he is responsible for Cas staying behind in Purgatory. In typical Dean fashion, he shows his feelings by confronting his friend with a firm but revealing, “I did not leave you!” What Dean does not expect is for Castiel to understand Dean’s real feelings and say incredulously, “So you think this is your fault?” Clearly, the two men have different perceptions of what happened.

Castiel gently tells Dean fault doesn’t come into why he didn’t escape through the portal; it was will. His free will. And Dean cannot see that because a part of him is refusing to see that. Cas tells him, “You remember it the way you need to.” Dean’s overdeveloped sense of responsibility was shaped by his dad, as we saw in “Something Wicked.” Even when Dean was about ten, John blamed him for not handling the situation properly, for not saving Sam, for not saving all the people the shtriga would go on to kill. Dean’s fallback position is that if something goes wrong, he let it go wrong somehow.

Castiel challenges this perception when he makes Dean take another look at his memory of leaving Purgatory. Dean looks past his insecurities to finally see Castiel made his own decision to stay. It’s a wonderful look at Dean’s perception of himself and how he is still shaped by his fear of abandonment and his need to prove to his father he is worthy and he can save people. But Dean has another perception in play and that is his feeling there’s something hinky in Castiel’s return. Now that he’s realized he can’t necessarily trust his perceptions, will he continue to trust that one?

Misha Collins and Amanda TappingThe writers really up the stakes on that question as we are whisked away with Castiel to meet a new angel in a new area of heaven. Naomi (played by Amanda Tapping) has the same air of institutional nastiness Dolores Umbridge has in Harry Potter. It seems Castiel cannot trust his perceptions, either, because he’s being controlled in some way by a mysterious and rather ominous group of angels. This group rescued Castiel to make him an unknowing Winchester mole, thus proving Dean’s perceptions of hinkiness are true, and Crowley’s perception there is no power grid left in heaven is false.

It’s all very intriguing. Castiel coming back at less than full power and under the control of more powerful angels nicely takes care of the deus ex machina problem he sometimes brings to the story.  Given that we also got strong performances from all the supporting actors—Crowley is a real joy as he shows just how much of a Big Bad he can be while remaining completely charming—the episode should have left me delighted and chomping at the bit for more.

The chomping at the bit part is true—it will be a long two weeks to the next instalment in this saga. There is no question the show has been energized by Jeremy Carver’s vision. What is it, exactly, that didn’t quite work for me?

Well, first is that there was little development of Sam and Dean’s shared arc, despite the strong emotions and hurtful words in the last episode. But it’s not unusual for the show to expose subterranean Winchester issues and then have the boys bury them in shallow ground, so they can burst through again whenever the writers want. I hope there is more exploration, as I was not at all satisfied the fight in “Southern Comfort” actually cleared the air, but I can wait.

The more troubling aspect of “A Little Slice of Kevin” for me is the lack of Sam and Dean exploration meant the weight of the emotional exploration fell to Dean and Castiel, and those scenes felt overwritten. I felt that if the picture went blank and I could only hear the final scene between the two, I would have gotten every nuance the writers wanted, because they spelled everything out concretely in dialogue. There was no space left for Jensen Ackles or Misha Collins to find their own way to convey what their characters were feeling. And with these actors, that’s a shame.

Eric Kripke noted that he started Supernatural thinking he was using the actors to tell urban ghost stories and quickly realized he was using urban ghost stories to tell the stories of the characters. He struck gold with his casting of first Sam and Dean and then Castiel. Jensen Ackles, Jared Padalecki and Misha Collins know their characters and they know how to read between the lines to deliver emotional beats.

Jensen Ackles and Alona TalFor example, there was no need in season four for Sam to state he was struggling with the need for demon blood when he left Dean for Ruby and stalked her over to the bed, eying her veins as he justified what he was doing. We saw it in his body movements and in his eyes. In season five, there was no need for Dean to tell Jo he finally saw her as an adult he could have gotten involved with just as he had to help her kill herself; we saw it in his kiss.

Emotional scenes do not benefit from overwriting—they are much more effective when the actors find the contradictions and the nuances and play them. I felt like I was getting Cliff’s Notes on Dean when he outright stated to Cas he felt guilty for “failing you like every other Godforsaken thing I care about!” When Cas replies that he felt the need to do penance and says to Dean, “You can’t save everyone, my friend, though you try,” I believe these are the emotions and perceptions these characters have—but the lines are written so on the nose, the scene loses some power because it gets a little . . . emo, which is the danger of overwriting.

I much prefer Supernatural when I have to look into the actors’ eyes and watch their body language to add to the spoken words. And these actors, especially Jensen Ackles, can and have delivered emotional scenes in spades, so there’s no excuse for not trusting them to find the emotional notes. The writing is a little out of balance right now, as we don’t get quite enough to follow Sam’s arc and get a little too much on Dean’s.

“A Little Slice of Kevin” stills sets up the major arcs of the season very nicely, and I am now extremely intrigued with the myth arc, so it is far from a fail. I enjoyed the episode overall and look forward to the next, so season eight still gets a thumbs up from me.

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About Gerry Weaver

  • Lizzy

    Amanda Tapping’s character is named Naomi, not Andrea. Andrea was Benny’s vampire ex-girlfriend from 3 weeks ago….

  • Gerry

    Whoops! All fixed (blushing).

  • lil

    Great review. I agree with what you said about overwriting.. it’s really not necessary in a show like this with great actors. I think anyone who has watched all of the episodes already feels like they know the characters, and can read body language and facial expressions well enough to know what’s not being said.

    I wonder if maybe the writers were nervous about Cas’ return and didn’t want it to be an anti-climax for the fans.. so made sure there was plenty of dialogue to keep everyone happy. Cas/Dean can say so much with just a look.. as can Sam/Dean.

    One of my favourite moments from this season was when Benny got off the boat and shook Sam’s hand, and we had that silent exchange between Sam & Dean. I watched it a few times over, and was hugely impressed by how much emotion they conveyed and how much they said without words… if that makes sense..

    On another note, I might be in the minority here, but I really don’t like Mrs Tran. When Sam told her that she shouldn’t have hired the witch, she just rolled her eyes at him. She seems unable to accept her shortcomings. I don’t know if this is deliberate, but I’m finding it difficult to warm to her.. although, bringing the demon in the trunk of the car was pretty badass, so she gets points for that.

    I’m sure you’re aware of ‘Destiel’.. In this episode a lot of destiel fans were reading between the lines and seeing things which may or may not be there. What’s your take on that? Do you think Dean/Cas have a more than platonic interest in each other?

  • Hana

    This episode was fantastic IMO, and I agree with pretty much everything you say. @lil, Cas and Dean are best friends and have a very strong friendship; however besides a few nudges and winks towards fandom, I highly doubt Destiel will become anymore canon than Wincest.

  • Gerry

    Hi lil, great to see you! Glad to hear you thought those scenes were just a bit overwritten. I loved the end of Blood Brothers, too and one thing Ben Edlund and Guy Bee know to do is let a scene breathe. Let the actors read between the lines. There wasn’t much chance in this episode as the spaces were all filled up. Fortunately, I believed all the emotions being spoken about, so the scenes still worked–they just could have worked a lot better being less nailed down with dialogue.

    On the Destiel question, yup, I know what it is. (-: I don’t myself read the show as Cas and Dean opening themselves up to a romantic relationship. I do think they have a deep bond, forged not only as brothers-in arms but also as sons who lost faith and then found it again. Castiel found it in and through Dean, and I do see that the bones of the narrative could be seen as romantic. However, to me neither the writers nor the actors are making the choice to make that bond romantic and it does not have to be romantic to be interesting and moving. My read of the show is Sam and Dean’s relationship is the centre and driving force and that won’t change, notwithstanding Sam’s choice this season.

    However, there are always more ways than one to read a show and I’m sure Destiel fans will disagree with me. (-: That’s fine.

    I don’t actually think Eugenie Ross-Leming and Brad Buckner were deliberately asked to lay it on thick; I think they just wrote with a bit of a heavy hand. These are the writers responsible for Route 666. (-: The “sexy” arguments between Dean and Cassie were overdone as well. They got a whole lot right this episode, so they’re improving.

    On Mrs. Tran, I understand where you are coming from, though I have been enjoying her. She is supposed to be a bit of a pain in the *ss for both Kevin and the boys, but also a fierce mother with some fighting chops. I like seeing Kevin’s pained expressions when Sam and Dean expect him to control his mom and he’s just “Who, me?? She’s my mom!” But if that balance is off for you, then I can see being a bit irritated.

    Hi Hana, welcome! I agree, the writers love to make little meta-nods to fandom, and they’re as happy to do it about Wincest as Destiel.

  • lil

    I don’t think anyone really expects Wincest to become canon. That’s all kinds of wrong. For me, the fantasy of a relationship between Jensen/Jared is one thing, but to write it into a show where they are actual brothers is just awful.

    I do see where the Destiel fanbase are coming from with the scenes between Cas/Dean.. however, it’s hard to think of Cas seeing anyone in a sexual way as he isn’t human.. and doesn’t have the same urges as humans do. The whole scene with him with the prostitute, and the one with him watching porn … he didn’t seem particularly ‘turned on’ by either of those situations.

    Again, the attraction for me in the ‘destiel’ thing is the actors both being incredibly attractive, but it’s in a fantasy way rather than needing it to become an actual part of the show.

    It seems to me that the relationship they have on the show is complicated… Cas has loved Dean from the start. He has felt the need to protect him and look out for him. Dean didn’t feel that way right off, but over time, you could see how Dean would turn to Cas, and would need him more. Dean rarely shows vulnerability to anyone, so the fact that he does open up to Cas, and shows this softer side, tells me that he now feels the bond as much as Cas does.

    As to Mrs Tran.. I think you could be right.. in that she’s meant to irritate.. Although, it might be the actress. I remember her from Friends, when she played Julie, and I couldn’t warm to her then either, so perhaps that’s it.

    Another thing I meant to comment on was the way the brothers acted in this episode. They were more like their true self. Sam genuinely seemed concerned about Dean both before and after Cas returned. I liked their exchanges.. it felt real, and with Sam’s attitude this season, it’s been missing that real emotion between them.

  • shamangrrl

    Good review. I enjoyed the episode for the Dean/cas stuff, for the advancement of the mytharc, for the Purgatory scenes. But tonally, the shifts between the Trans and Dean/Cas/Sam were a bit much.

    I had quite a bit more trouble with the brother relationship in this one, than you did. It was nice to see the guys getting along, but frankly, it felt like Dean had slipped Sam some prozac, because it was totally unearned. And whiplash-inducing. It came out of the blue, especially given the vitriol and bile of the last few minutes of Southern Comfort. Frankly, I don’t buy it.

    I’m intrigued by Naomi, and I really liked her. To me, she feels like more of a Big Bad than Crowley. I think that she’s going to find herself right at the top of Dean’s Kill List, right alongside Crowley, once Dean figures out she’s manipulating Cas, and I can’t wait. As short as it was, that initial meet-greet-mindwipe scene was very effective.

    With regard to the final Dean/Cas scene, I kind of agree with you on the overwritting. But given the writers of the episode (who I generally find to be among the poorer writers), their over-reliance on contrived emo and angst, I didn’t mind the scene as written. Especially since, after 7 seasons, I think that Dean needed to hear it said, and said unequivocally and without embellishment. I was *glad* that Cas laid it all on the line. It showed great growth in his character, it once again established the bond between the two characters, and it will hopefully lance that final wound that Dean is incapable of healing on his own.

    Next week seems like more filler, and I feel that this season has already had too much of that. I wish they’d do several mytharc in a row before putting in filler. It seems like it’s one episode mytharc to one/two episodes filler, and that “balance” isn’t working for me. It feels too staggered, too stop/start. But I could be wrong, we’ll see.

  • Gerry

    Hey, lil and shamangrrl, great comments!

    lil, I agree that I haven’t seen sexual interest in Cas toward anyone but Meg and even that didn’t feel very sexual nor very organic. I think the writers are going more for the “junkless” angle with angels, though clearly Cas is capable of love. I love the exploration of what Cas feels for Dean and I think that arc explores the definition of family and of faith. I agree with you that Dean is willing to be vulnerable with Cas in a way he finds difficult, so there is definitely a bond both feel.

    shamangrrl, I get what you are saying about whiplash and I agree there is much more to be explored about the brothers’ relationship–that fight in no way cleared the air; it added some complications to an already complicated situation. Since when has Dean blamed Sam for being soulless? I didn’t see a hint of that in seasons 6 and 7.

    However, I do think both boys are capable of pushing things underground and continuing to work together. I also think Sam cares deeply for Dean, despite also having conflicted feelings over working with him, so I was able to go with the episode on the boys working together so well, while still thinking they have SO much to process.

    On the Dean/Castiel, there obviously I had more difficulty than you. I think the key point for me is “earned.” There are times a forthright statement on something can be very moving–Bobby’s answer to his reaper when he asked why he wouldn’t move on comes to mind. “Because they’re MY boys” felt so right in that moment. I think it was because the revealing moment was embedded in and moved along the main action. Bobby’s answer had a dramatic purpose in the scene, as well as a character purpose.

    And then it wasn’t belaboured. In the final scene where Bobby looks at Sam and Dean squabbling on the couch, he doesn’t have to say: “These boys finally turned my house of terrible memories into a home.” We get it, because of seven seasons of excellent build up.

    In this eppy, the Dean/Cas scenes are literally pulled aside from the main action and exist just to make the character points. That’s already a little dramatically iffy and then to explicitly state and belabour the points to be made just heads into soap territory instead of feeling exactly right. And that’s even though I have no issue with the feelings stated.

    If I wanted to show an episode to someone who hadn’t seen the show, I’d never pick this one because I think the person would assume the character relationships are written on the nose and rather soapily, which is so far from the truth in general.

    On the plus side, I too am intrigued by Naomi–she already makes my skin crawl and she’s just getting started. Between her and Crowley, the big bads are well represented this year.

  • greenie

    The only thing I disagree with is the overwritten part..part of the problem with Dean and Cas and the reason for their breakdown during season 6 onwards was miscommunication. It felt like character advancement for them to actually communicate verbally. For there to be no misunderstandings. Plus the last line I thought was lovely – “you can’t save everyone my friend though you try” and was exactly what Dean needed to hear.

  • http://redskyie.tumblr.com/ redsky

    I think greenie makes a really good point there. Communicating feelings honestly has been a big problem in the past, especially for Dean, and it does feel like a breakthrough for him to be able to express emotions with both Sam and Cas in this episode. Dean has so many issues that mess with his perception of events (as do the other characters) that sometimes he really does need to be told straight out “This is not your fault.” I think that the example of Bobby not needing to spell everything out in words is a little different because Bobby’s feelings about the boys were always crystal clear and none of the characters involved had any misconceptions on that point.

    I personally was thrilled when Dean managed to start opening up to Sam early in the episode about Purgatory and his feelings of guilt over not getting Cas out. I really hope that during this season the characters will grow a little more comfortable about expressing their feelings. I’m not particularly worried about things becoming too “soapy;” I’m confident the writers and actors won’t let it go too far. Jensen in particular has said he’s pretty protective of Dean and he has in the past looked at scripts and said “I really don’t think Dean would say this.”

    To me, it didn’t really seem strange at all for Sam to be so supportive of Dean after their angry words in the previous episode. We’ve seen the brothers fight and make up before, they get angry with each other and then once they’ve cooled off a bit things improve. Look at their fight in “Scarecrow”, for instance. Presumably between last episode and this one Dean has eased up on the snarky remarks about Sam and Amelia or Sam not looking for him. Besides, no matter how much they might fight with each other, I’ve never had the feeling that they don’t love each other deeply and want to look out for each other, so it doesn’t surprise me in the least that when Dean told Sam he’d been seeing Cas, Sam was concerned and ready to listen. After all, he had the same thing after Jessica died, seeing her on a street corner as they drove out of town in “Bloody Mary.”

    As for the concentration on the Dean/Cas interactions in this episode and the relative absence of Sam, I’ve read that this is because the PTB wanted to give Jared a little time with his family after his son was born. I don’t really like to see less Sam especially after the big fight last episode, but such is life. I’m fairly confident that we’ll get some more insight into Sam’s story before too long.

    One of the things that impressed me this episode was the revelation of the guilt Dean felt over leaving Cas behind, and to me it feels completely in character for Dean to try to bury that guilt, only to have it come out as anger at Sam for not looking for him. Subconsciously he was trying to punish himself by punishing Sam, since he felt that on some level they were both guilty of the same thing, I hope I’m saying this coherently. After all, unlike Sam, Dean knew for a fact that Cas was still in Purgatory, and he didn’t try to get him out again. I’m sure that he felt extremely guilty about that. I’m also interested to know what the Sam-haters who criticised Sam for not looking for Dean think of Dean’s failure to try to get Cas out.

  • Gerry

    Hi Redsky, thanks for stopping by and commenting. I will ask that you refrain from labeling fans with different opinions as “haters.” Conversations usually work better when we avoid those kind of labels.

    For me, I see no problem with wondering about Sam’s decison and accepting Dean’s. I look at it on two levels: One, I don’t think Dean and Castiel are supposed to have the same weight of relationship as Sam and Dean. Castiel is a meaningful relationship for sure, but Sam and Dean’s bond has always been presented as deeper than any other. I think a closer parallel to Cas and Dean is Benny and Dean, and I think the writers will continue to play with that parallel.

    Therefore, I ask different questions of the different bonds. I have never expected Dean to sell his soul for Castiel or to deliberately kill himself to talk to Death over Castiel. I didn’t see Dean last year pick up Castiel’s trench coat and ask how he was supposed to live with his death, how he could go on. That level of bond he has only with Sam, the brother he raised because he was given responsibility for saving him at a very young age. I am looking at this story line now to tell me how to read Sam’s bond with Dean and I expect it to have this kind of weight. If it doesn’t, I want to know why.

    On another level, it also doesn’t bother me because what I want to know about Sam is why he didn’t need to know what happened. When you lose someone without any facts as to how, it is very difficult to move on. There is a place for hope and it’s very hard to process something you can’t envision. Given that Sam has also been shown to have obsessive qualities like his dad, I need more info than I have as to why he didn’t need to keep digging to find out what happened. Once he had that info, it would be another question entirely whether he would choose to try to open Purgatory, since he knows the Leviathan are there. I would expect that decision to be difficult for him, but there is ample support in the story for him not to try to open that portal as Castiel did. The problem with Sam ‘s story for me is we didn’t see him after losing Dean to see his frame of mind. The flashbacks keep going back to the wrong place. I want the foundational piece.

    Whereas with Dean, he thinks he knows what happened to Castiel. Castiel is a Leviathan magnet and we saw more than once that either Dean or Benny had to save him. As Dean says to Sam, no way could Castiel fight his way out of Purgatory. Therefore, to Dean, Castiel stayed behind and died. I’m not expecting to see the same kind of “need to know” with Dean because until this episode, he thought he did know.

    The way I see it, Dean’s guilt is about not understanding why he couldn’t convince Castiel to hang on and escape, not about not trying to break open Purgatory again. It’s about faith, why Cas didn’t believe in him. That’s why Cas had to tell him it was nothing to do with failure; it was about will.

    We can agree to disagree on the soapy issues in this episode (-:. I think Dean has been told many times things are not his fault (Jo told him last season her death was not his fault)–it just doesn’t change his default mode of assuming they are. I personally think Dean will never be able to process and move past his feeling he needs to be perfect and yet never is until he is able to talk to his father again. John set this dynamic in motion and I suspect only John can help untangle it. And I’d love to see JDM on the show again!

  • http://redskyie.tumblr.com/ redsky

    Gerry, those are both good points you make about the Sam/Dean bond versus the Castiel/Dean bond and Sam’s lack of knowledge about what happened to Dean, and now that you mention it I do think you’re right about the real source of Dean’s guilt – he spent so much time reassuring Cas that he wasn’t leaving without him, after all.
    I do think though, that a lot of people instantly criticised Sam unfairly when Dean said “You should have looked for me,” attributing it to a lack of care or loyalty on Sam’s part when we have no evidence that that’s his state of mind and even claiming it was part of a long history of Sam failing to be a “good” brother to Dean; I don’t think it’s inaccurate to say that some viewers take sides between the brothers every time they have a disagreement and some viewers just think Dean is a “better” brother than Sam, without necessarily looking too hard at either brother’s true motivations. And we can’t deny that some viewers think that the brothers should separate even though their relationship is the main focus of he show. Even the notion that every time there’s conflict, one character has to be “right” and one “wrong” is problematic and not very realistic, in my opinion; that’s not how real life works.
    Although Sam and Dean were in different positions in this case, and of course have different personal traits influencing their actions, I still think that Sam had as much reason to think Dean was dead as Dean had to think Cas was dead. It’s fair to say that Dean believed Cas couldn’t have survived the Leviathans very long without his and Benny’s help, but I also think it’s fair to say that since Sam actually saw Dean disappear when he killed Dick, he may well have believed that this powerful weapon – strong enough to kill a Leviathan, which had been established as very difficult to do – could have obliterated Dean’s body. And he had plenty of reason to believe that in the event of Dean’s death, his soul would go to Heaven, since that had happened more than once. He also has the experience and the sense to know by now that trying to subvert the “natural order” usually leads to bad things happening. Whatever we might think about Dean’s deal to save Sam in S2, what we should not forget is that, quite apart from the fact that this started the chain of events leading to the Apocalypse, it was very traumatic for Sam to know that Dean had sold his soul for him – it had been clearly established how hard it was for Dean to know the same thing about his father – and spending that final year with Dean’s impending death hanging over their heads was also very hard for Sam. And I think some people forget that despite everything, Sam did try to do the same for Dean, but the demons would not make the deal with him. He even admits to having tried to open the Devil’s Gate, so I think it’s fair to say that he loves Dean as much as Dean loves him. But by S8 he’s learned that, as Bobby told him, when it’s your time, you should go.
    Although I don’t usually seek out spoilers, I have read that the brothers will be having more honest conversation further into this season, so I feel pretty confident that we’ll learn more about what Sam was thinking before too long. As I said, I’m not too worried about it being too “soapy” but then I think that there’s a difference between what we as viewers need to hear the characters say out loud, and what the characters themselves need to say or hear out loud. At the end of Slash Fiction, for example, even the most unobservant of us knows that Sam is angry about Dean killing Amy, but Dean doesn’t know he’s found out about it, so they still need to have that conversation, even though nothing is said that surprises us. I think we would have felt cheated if that confrontation hadn’t occurred on screen. There are plenty of other examples of this kind of thing scattered throughout the series; I’m just guessing here from what you said that those moments didn’t strike you as being too literal or “soapy”, which gives me confidence that future conversations can be handled well, even if some of those past conversations have involved unspoken clues as well as explicit ones.
    I also think that you make a good point when you note that these particular writers, Buckner and Ross-Leming, are not the strongest dialogue writers on SPN. In fact “Route 666″ did actually strike me as being a lot like a soap opera, not just in Dean and Cassie’s interactions, but in Cassie’s mother’s exposition. It’s one of the reasons I consider that to be a particularly weak episode. Hopefully other writers will have a hand in the boy’s conversations in later episodes!

  • http://redskyie.tumblr.com/ redsky

    PS: I think we can all agree that JDM is awesome and it would be great to see him again!

  • Gerry

    Hi Redsky, so nice to see you back! I posted a comment yesterday, but a site glitch made it disappear. Try #2!

    There are fans who are very polarized on the brothers, to the point, in my mind, they distort the story, but most fans do not fall into that category. It’s the writers who have raised the question of whether the brothers should separate, so it’s no surprise people have opinions–that’s where the story is right now.

    Having Sam act like the last seven years were only spent with Dean by necessity, never choice, and that he needs nothing from his relationship with his brother does open up the possibility for me that Sam should leave hunting–why would I want him to be where he truly doesn’t want to be and why would I want Dean to be putting his energy into a relationship that doesn’t exist the way he wants it to? To have me root to have Sam ride shotgun with Dean, the writers have to make me feel the bond between the two of them, and that Sam needs Dean in his life the way Dean needs him. I don’t think the blood relationship at this point in the story gives Sam’s any kind of automatic “family” status: the boys are making their own family. You don’t have to be blood to be family and just because you’re blood don’t mean you’re family, to quote the show.

    That said, I WANT Sam to show me he needs Dean and that he should be riding shotgun with him. I think the brothers’ relationship is the core of the show and Supernatural will suffer if that bond is deconstructed too severely. I know the end game is for the boys to be back together–but it worries me the writers haven’t figured out giving the audience Sam’s state of mind when he didn’t look for Dean is important. I want to understand Sam.

    I also think the case for Sam assuming Dean is dead is much weaker than for Dean assuming Cas was killed. Dean knows exactly where Cas is and why and how he would be killed. He knows the odds and that Cas only survived the cross-Purgatory trip because of Dean and Benny. He’s a Leviathan magnet. That really only adds up to Cas surviving with the intervention of something with the power of angels, and Dean’s had no reason to suspect there is a secret order of powerful angels with a cunning plan.

    On the other hand, Dean’s disappearance isn’t that much different than what happened in Time After Time, when he vanished clutched by a mysterious but obviously dangerous stranger who left a trail of bodies behind him. Sam assumed he should keep digging until he knew where Dean was and with whom.

    This time Dean vanishes in the aftermath of killing Dick, which doesn’t bode well, but also doesn’t give any evidence of death. He’s got Castiel with him, and Cas is a very powerful ally in most circumstances. I don’t see anything that tells me why Sam didn’t need to know more, didn’t need to dig.

    If it’s because the accumulated damage he’s suffered led to an emotional breakdown, then give me that in a flashback. I shouldn’t have to fanwank that kind of story point. It’s frustrating to me that Dean’s flashbacks have answered the kinds of questions I have about his story line, while Sam’s have all concentrated on the Amelia relationship, while ignoring Sam processing what happened to Dean.

    Because there was no body, there was the possibility of hope that Dean was alive, and that possibility would be there until Sam felt hope die. I want to see that moment, just like I saw the moment Dean defined Benny as a true friend and the moment he realized he blamed himself for failing Castiel. Without similar story beats that allow me to follow Sam’s emotional journey, his story so far feels a bit weak.

    So far is key, though, because all it would take is one flashback to fill in Sam’s story–or one heart to heart from Sam to Dean. I’m very hopeful we’ll get more on Sam’s decision.

    On the soapy writing, I only have an issue with the Dean/Cas scenes in this eppy, not with emotional scenes in general. Usually, the writers do very well in finding that balance between nailing down themes in dialogue and letting the actors find the spaces between lines to communicate feelings. Ben Edlund is a master at it, and Sera was also very very good. Jeremy Carver is no slouch in that department. So, I’m not too worried the soapy writing is a trend. I think it’s something Buckner and Ross-Leming have to watch.

  • http://redskyie.tumblr.com/ redsky

    Gerry, I too am confident we’ll be learning more about Sam’s thoughts and emotional state and what actions he may or may not have taken in the year after Dean’s disappearance; until that happens, we just don’t really know for sure what he thought when Dean disappeared, so we might as well just wait and see. In fact, not to be too speculative about it, it’s possible that there’s a little misdirection going on – Dean seems to get the wrong end of the stick, thinking that Amelia was an important factor in Sam’s not looking for him (“You left me in Purgatory for a girl?”), and it’s possible that that’s why we’ve been shown flashbacks to Sam’s time with her, when the truth is that they met after Sam had already come to believe there was nothing he could do about Dean.

    Also I think the writers needed to establish certain things about their relationship early on because she’s to appear in the “present” in later episodes.

    As far as Sam needing Dean in his life, I think that for Sam, “Dean” is seperate in his mind from “hunting”. He wants his relationship with Dean, but he doesn’t want to hunt. I don’t think that he doesn’t need Dean; quite the opposite. It’s true that in past seasons he’s always had one reason or another to hunt (find the demon, stop the Apocalypse, fight the Leviathans, etc) but I think it’s similar to him wanting college when he was younger. He didn’t see going to college as meaning that he didn’t consider himself Dean’s brother anymore, and was hurt and surprised when John forced him to choose college or family; similarly he doesn’t see a rejection of hunting as a rejection of Dean per se, though Dean sees it that way because of his own issues. I think Sam believes that he and Dean can still be brothers even if they don’t live and work together 24/7, that they don’t need to spend every minute of every day together in order to be close because they’ve already established this close bond because of all they’ve been through together. After all, Dean’s only seen Benny once since returning from Purgatory, and he was the one who suggested that they should spend time apart, but it hasn’t changed the way he feels about Benny.

    How the brothers’ conflicting desires for their futures can be reconciled, I don’t know, but I don’t see the brothers seperating permanently during the show. I think it’s more an expression of what Sam wants to do when the brothers have achieved their goal; an option for what happens at the end of the series as opposed to during. I don’t think it can become the Dean-and-Cas show or the Dean-and-Benny show which I think is what a small but vocal minority of the audience claims to want – this view has been expressed in the comments on your previous review, for example, with accompanying opinions to the effect that Sam is selfish/a bad brother/doesn’t love Dean. As you’ve said, I think those viewers are letting this polarized “one brother is the good one” viewpoint distort their reading of the show; and, as I’ve said, I think it misses the point – that in real life, it’s never that simple; when two people in a close relationship like the Winchesters have a conflict, it’s rarely a case of one being wholly right and one wrong, but rather how each person feels and what each desires. I think the assumption that Sam should always capitulate to Dean’s wishes (stay with me and Dad, be a hunter) is unfair. Dean thinks that he needs Sam by his side all the time; this is mainly the result of Dean’s unhealthy abandonment issues and codependence, and of course it makes for a good show, but it’s not necessarily fair to require others to give up on their own desires to accomodate these issues. I think that Dean might be happier and healthier, emotionally speaking, if he could conquer these issues.

    In fact, I think that we should acknowledge that just as Sam loves Dean but needs a reason to hunt, Dean loves Sam but his love is a selfish one in that it is complicated by his dependence on him; rather than simply having love for Sam as a person or a brother, Dean loves Sam as something without which (he thinks) he cannot function happily. I don’t really know if I’m expressing this properly. It’s a little like the romantic relationships glorified in literature and love stories: Romeo and Juliet, for example, are names invoked as an example of great love, but in real life, if a 14 year old girl decided she would rather kill herself than live without her 16 year old lover, we’d send her to therapy. From the reader or audience’s viewpoint, these “great loves” make for a great story that pulls on our heartstrings in a way we enjoy, but what happens in them is not necessarily good or healthy for the characters involved. As with any other kind of story, rarely does a simple, healthy story wherein two people meet, get to know each other, fall mutually in love, get married and live happily ever after actually make for interesting drama. Stories of a love so great that one person sacrifices his or her life for the other are wonderful to read or see, but not so wonderful for the person left behind who has to go on alone. I think that the way in which some viewers regard Dean’s love for Sam – as a great, self-sacrificing and noble emotion – is not necessarily accurate in that it fails to acknowledge that his love does have a certain selfish and unhealthy component. In making his deal with the Crossroads Demon, Dean was acting on what he needed – to not be without Sam – rather than what was best for Sam. It made for a great story, but wasn’t necessarily a healthy thing to do, as Lisa later points out to Dean “I love my sister, but if she died, I wouldn’t wish her back from the dead.” Dean himself acknowledges that he and Sam have “issues” in that same conversation. After Dean comes back from hell, we learn that Sam tried to make the same deal for Dean – at that stage he doesn’t feel he can live without Dean. His only thought, when it appears that there’s no way to get Dean back, is to kill Lillith, and if he doesn’t survive, he’s okay with that. If by S8 he has come to learn that he can live without Dean, albeit with great difficulty and pain, I don’t think that’s a bad thing.

    This isn’t to say that I’m criticising Dean; these are just his issues and motivations as I see them. Just like real people, both brothers have their own complex issues and feelings driving their actions. They try to make the best choices they can in difficult situations. Sometimes it doesn’t work out for the best; sometimes it saves the world. One isn’t “better” than the other, one doesn’t love the other more; they’re just different people, that’s all.

    I think that both brothers value their relationship highly; they have lived in each other’s pockets for years and faced so many life-threatening situations that their bond is firm. I think Sam was genuinely shocked when Dean said that Benny had been more of a brother to him than Sam had been. I believe that Dean’s perception was clouded in this by his tendency to put people on pedestals, which only magnifies the hurt when they inevitably let him down. Benny hasn’t let Dean down *so far*, but Sam was shocked to think that this could outweigh all of their shared history and his love for Dean, which he thinks is obvious to Dean. Dean feels himself unworthy of love because of his own low self-worth; Sam doesn’t realise how deep this goes and assumes it’s obvious to Dean that Sam loves him.

    I agree with you on the point that different writers have varying levels of skill in the dialogue department. Let’s hope that the most important conversations in future episodes are handled skilfully.

    Now the only question is, how are we going to manage with only two more episodes before 2013?! :)

  • Gerry

    Hi Redsky! I was shocked to realize we have only two eps left before Hellatus. Yikes! Especially because I want a whole lot of Sam exploration before a big break.

    I think you have a very sensitive and interesting read of Sam and Dean. This has been a great conversation. There are still places where I come at the story differently, but that’s to be expected.

    For me, Sam telling Dean he should think about hunting alone because Sam wants to go to college and have a different kind of life is telling Dean he does not see him as someone he needs to be close to. Because Sam and Dean right now live in a shadow world most people know nothing about. If Sam leaves that ShadowWorld, he’ll see Dean once or twice a year for a beer, but he won’t have any significant interaction with him. He won’t know what Dean is involved in or if he needs help.

    To me, that is a problem, because I don’t think Dean’s love for Sam is like a 14 year old girl in a romantic passion. I think both brothers have issues and their relationship would definitely be odd if judged by normal standards.

    But they have never been normal and their relationship, in all its dysfunctional glory, is what has saved the normal world so it can about its normal business.

    Dean loves Sam so fiercely for many reasons, one of which is his fear of abandonment. But its also because he has stood in loco parentis for Sam–in many ways he’s the only father and mother Sam knew, though John and Bobby added in their bits. A Very Supernatural Christmas showed us who Sam thought of as his person who gave him unconditional love and was always there for him.

    Dean also loves Sam because there’s no one else who can understand his life, no one else who could possibly understand how he could get off the rack and start torturing. Their whole life has been shaped by being in the trenches together and that makes for deep bonds.

    And he loves Sam because no one else can make him question his tendency for black and white thinking and therefore save him from himself. Dean has outright stated he thinks he and Sam keep each other human and that’s what I have taken away from their interactions.

    So, for Sam to think he loves Dean but doesn’t need him is a big change in the way I’ve perceived his relationship. I don’t see it as a move to maturity because I don’t see the boys’ bond as immature. I think they do need each other to keep each other human and someone like Amelia is not going to do that for Sam. Amelia has no idea who Sam even is. He could never tell her he helped kidnap a nurse and then killed her while she screamed for mercy so he could drink her blood. And that is a part of Sam he has to live with.

    I don’t think any bond is so firm it doesn’t need to be cared for and tended. If Sam really thinks he loves Dean but doesn’t need him, then that will change their relationship. And since Dean is relationship-driven and does not want to hunt alone, he will have to find someone who he feels wants to hunt with him and will have his back no matter what. Cas and Benny ARE options and that is what Sam is risking when he tells Dean he wants him to go off and hunt without him. That’s the story the writers are telling right now, to me.

    I think it’s a really risky story because, having raised the possibility that Sam doesn’t need Dean emotionally, that really deconstructs the engine that drives the show, and it’s not always easy to put something back together once it is apart. I now need to be convinced I should want Sam riding shotgun; his blood relationship alone doesn’t do that.

    I too am very unsure Dean and Cas or Dean and Benny is a strong enough premise to drive the show the way Sam and Dean have. So I’m a little nervous where the show is treading right now.

  • http://redskyie.tumblr.com/ redsky

    Yes – this is a very interesting discussion. It’s a good point that Dean has in many ways been Sam’s “parent” and that makes their bond even closer. I think that this is actually a contributing factor in their mutual misunderstanding; Dean made sure that Sam grew up secure in his love, so Sam doesn’t really understand the abandonment issues Dean has. Meanwhile Dean did not grow up with the same sense of unconditional love, so he doesn’t understand that when Sam left for college he didn’t stop loving Dean. And of course you’re right – judging their relationship by “normal” standards does carry a risk in that the boy’s whole lives have been and continue to be distinctly abnormal.

    I don’t really know what Sam is envisioning if he settles down and Dean continues hunting, whether he imagines them calling each other on the phone every day (given how little they tend to say in words, that might not be very satisfactory!) or meeting up regularly in between Dean’s hunts; at least one of the benefits of the hunter life is that in a way Dean is his own boss. I suspect it’s the kind of thing even they couldn’t foresee accurately unless they actually tried it. I don’t know that he expects or wants them to be less close, though he must realise that things won’t be quite the same. All relationships need some maintenance, as you say. It’s possible that, given two conflicting desires, he’s trying to choose the one that will make him less unhappy; that would fit with the boy’s history of having numerous options, none of which is good, and simply trying to choose the one they think will cause the least harm. After all, he could have Dean-all-the-time but it would mean hunting, or he could have no hunting and still have Dean some of the time, if that makes sense. I think maybe Sam thinks “Even if we don’t see each other all day every day, we’ll still love each other”. It’s not as if his life has given him much opportunity to learn how these things work.

    While thinking about this it did occur to me though that while, as you say, Dean needs Sam to challenge him sometimes while also coming from a place of love, I don’t know how much Dean thinks he needs to be challenged. True, he says “we keep each other human” but while “The End” showed us that Dean without Sam was frighteningly cold and logical, I don’t know how much of that was due to his knowledge that Sam had failed to beat Lucifer – that Sam was essentially dead and Lucifer was using his body while destroying the world. I wonder if Dean realises how important it is to have Sam challenge him at those times when he is trying to kid himself and others about his real feelings. In “Sex And Violence” the siren presented Dean with what he wanted – a little brother who let him take the wheel and call the shots – and thus allowed Dean to express his disappointment with the current state of their relationship, with Sam’s involvement with Ruby, with his keeping secrets, and so on. But it makes me wonder what Dean thinks about Sam’s unique ability to challenge him. We know Dean needs it, but does he?

    My point is that although Sam tends to be more introspective than Dean, and more honest about what he *wants*, he just as capable as Dean of being wrong when it comes to what he *needs*. Perhaps he needs Dean more than he thinks he does. This might be something that becomes clearer when we know a little more about the difficulties hinted at in Sam’s relationship with Amelia. Although I think the ultimate cause of their split may be an external force (have you seen Casablanca?) Jared has said that their relationship is “not all cake in the park” so it may turn out that although the two help each other with their grief, Amelia is not able to fulfil some need of Sam’s that previously had been fulfilled by Dean. Your point about how honest Sam has been with Amelia about his past is especially relevant here. I don’t know whether he told her about hunting (frankly I doubt it) but even if he did, there’s very little chance of her truly understanding what happened with that nurse, pretty much Sam’s darkest moment. Of course he and Dean share this special experience that makes it impossible for anyone else to understand their past actions and the effects their pasts have had and continue to have on them. But I wonder exactly how much another person would need to know about Sam or Dean in order to accept and love them fully. Lisa knew about Dean being a hunter, but I doubt she knew about him torturing souls in hell; still they had a reasonably healthy relationship and I believe they both loved each other deeply. It’s still possible that their relationship would have broken down eventually even if Sam had never returned, given that as both she and Zachariah told him, he was born to be a hunter, not a construction worker or a “corporate douchebag”, but that would have been a result of wanting different things from life rather than the result of not loving or emotionally complementing each other well enough. I think that the importance of being able to tell a partner the worst things they have done can only really be measured by Sam’s or Dean’s respective feelings about it. It’s a question of whether it really bothers them to think “This woman thinks she loves me, but would she still accept me if she knew about me torturing souls/killing that nurse?” Basically I think that if it doesn’t bother Sam or Dean – if it doesn’t diminish the security they feel in a partner’s love for them – then it’s not really a problem. That’s not to say that they should be trying to bury or outrun their pasts, it’s more that they don’t necessarily have to let the darkest parts of their pasts define their futures. They don’t have to keep punishing themselves for their mistakes, because they aren’t defined as people solely by the worst things they’ve done – unless they want to be, unless they allow that guilt to shadow them forever.

    I’m not sure how much Sam really needs any prospective partner to know and accept everything he’s done. Although Dean carries a world’s worth of guilt, Sam doesn’t seem to be punishing himself quite as much. He told Dean in 7×04 that after going to hell, he felt he had “paid a lot of dues” and that he didn’t feel guilty anymore – not that the slate had been wiped clean, but that he could leave the past behind him and move on with his life. True, only Dean can really understand Sam’s darkest moments (and just how much he does understand and forgive them is not clear, especially since he mentioned them in “Southern Comfort”) but I don’t know for certain whether Sam really needs that understanding from anyone else. So while telling a partner about hunting might help them to understand where Sam’s coming from, telling them about his worst actions might not be worth the risk for him. It’s also possible that he might not want to change someone’s outlook on the world so drastically by telling them that ghosts, monsters and vampires are real. It would profoundly shake their sense of security. Given his logical nature, Sam might conclude that doing so might hurt them more than help them – are they in danger? do they need to know this stuff in order to protect themselves? or is it better to let them go on believing what they’ve always believed, and do his best to protect them himself? Sam knows that anyone can fall victim to a supernatural evil, but that doesn’t mean everybody will. Sometimes the fear of crime has a greater impact on our lives than crime itself. We can try not to take risks, but if we take it too far we end up afraid to leave the house. I know that’s not an exact parallel – Sam would not be approaching this question from the perspective of the average person, rather he might be analogous to a cop who sees a lot of crime and is extra protective of his family’s safety. But even cops don’t necessarily tell their loved ones the worst of what they have seen, some just tell them enough to try to protect them. Sam is after all a little secretive when he doesn’t think someone *needs* to know something. He might be the type to buy a partner an anti-possession charm without explaining its true purpose.

    I suspect that this question would be foremost in Sam’s mind, rather than “Should I tell my partner all about hunting so that she will understand me?” He doesn’t define himself solely by hunting. I think he might feel that claiming to have been in a dangerous profession – perhaps a soldier or something – or even just being recently bereaved is enough to explain his grief and PTSD (and I firmly believe he has PTSD) while explaining that he grew up without a mother and with a difficult relationship with his father would explain a lot about his personality.

    We generally tend to consider a relationship unhealthy when one partner is keeping a big secret from the other, but I think this actually depends on the nature of the secret and what it says about us, what it means for the relationship. Sometimes it’s better to protect someone from something they don’t need to know. The problem is often in our judgement of which applies to any one case. For example, if one person has an affair and knows there will be no repercussions – they haven’t contracted VD and passed it on to their spouse, they haven’t sired any illegitimate children, and the affair won’t be revealed – but still feels guilty, should they tell their spouse? We might think “yes,” but isn’t that person merely trying to assuage their own guilt? Shouldn’t they try to figure out why they were tempted to cheat, and put their energy into improving their marriage instead? Is the spouse hurt more by the actual affair, or by the knowledge of it? None of these are easy questions, and of course I’m once again using a somewhat “normal” situation to try to understand Sam and Dean’s decidedly abnormal life, but the moral dilemma is much the same – is total, brutal honesty always the best policy? I think that this question might occur to Sam, though I don’t know what he would decide. I know some people think that had he told Jess about the supernatural, she might not have died, but really, Sam couldn’t have known at the time that she would be targeted. Even if he had told her everything he knew, there was no way for her to protect herself against Azazel’s plan. After all, Mary was a hunter and she met the same fate. Sam, Dean and John were hunters, but they needed the Colt before they could even contemplate facing the demon. It’s entirely possible that Sam could tell a partner all about the supernatural world and still lose them to some unforeseen enemy, because sometimes you can do everything right and still become the victim of circumstance. A supremely careful driver can still be hit by a drunk driver.

    In 5×03 Sam tells Lyndsey practically nothing about himself, not even his real name, but she is still able to recognise that he is dealing with an addiction. She doesn’t need the precise details in order to be able to help Sam to begin dealing with his guilt, because it’s the emotional aspect that really matters. Later she does end up in danger because of Sam’s past, but not necessarily because of his silence. Knowing all about Sam’s past wouldn’t have protected her from being kidnapped and used as leverage to force Sam’s hand. The other hunters would probably have banked on being able to threaten any innocent person in order to get Sam to drink demon blood, even if Sam had never seen that person before and had no personal connection to them.

    Anyway, I’m starting to ramble a bit now. I will say this – there have been other times in the show when the brothers’ relationship has been rocky, and they’ve always managed to come back together stronger than before. So I don’t think we should worry too much about them. Their conflict is one thing that adds suspense and interest in the same way that the enemies and dangers they face add suspense. So all we need to do is hang on and enjoy the ride.

  • Gerry

    Hi Redsky! Lots to think about in your post. As usual, I do have some thoughts of my own (what a shock, I know (-: ).

    I guess first I’ll give my impression of Dean’s arc on needing Sam. I think the issue was raised in season two with Gordon, when Dean felt an instant rapport with Gordon and didn’t feel in sync with Sam’s take on hunting monsters. That changed throughout the episode until Dean had no hesitation in taking Sam’s view of whether to kill Lenore and completely rejecting Gordon. The episode ended with Dean asking Sam to punch him, which was his way of apologizing for not recognizing the value of Sam’s viewpoint rather than Gordon’s from the jump. Of course, there was some working through of missing John in there, too—there’s usually more than one thread in an episode, which I think makes the series so rich.

    “The End” I think was another case where what Sam offers Dean is made explicit and recognized by Dean. The emotional movement in the episode is Present Dean getting increasingly horrified by what FutureDean is capable of—and while it is true that FutureDean is dealing with SamLucifer, it’s also true that he’s been shaped by fighting this war without Sam. FutureDean explicitly tells PresentDean if he doesn’t want to turn into FutureDean, to go straight to Michael and be the vessel. Instead, Dean goes straight to Sam and tells him they need each other to keep each other human. Dean knows that he is prone to black and white thinking and seeing that taken to extremes with FutureDean showed him what Sam does for him. He didn’t want to lack humanity while saving humanity, which is a lovely bit of irony Supernatural does so well.

    On that note, I’ll also explain how I see the boys’ arcs, because that shapes what I think they need from each other and therefore how I am experiencing the current arc.

    Dean’s arc to me is him trying reconcile the oppositional drives he got from his dad: be the perfect warrior and at the same time be the perfect caretaker. John could not handle both these responsibilities at the same time, but he demanded Dean do so and do so with no mistakes.

    Unfortunately, these two drives do not play well together and frequently, they threaten to pull Dean apart. His personal arc is to find a way to integrate both, rather than suppress one or the other.
    I think Dean’s inner turmoil played out in his relationship with Lisa.

    He needed her to help him heal emotionally, but as he healed he could no longer find meaning in construction. Men have a strong tendency (not biological, but coming from society) to define themselves by their work and Dean in particular needs to feel he is saving people. And his gifts are to be able to fight things most people can’t, so construction was never going to satisfy that aspect of himself once he was strong again. Yet he truly loved having a family, being a father.

    Eventually, he couldn’t deny the conflict between his role as warrior and his role as lover and father, though he and Lisa tried hard to find a compromise. The biggest problem with a compromise is Dean cannot actually take himself off the playing board—there is no home free. So just by being with Lisa and Ben, he compromises their safety. It’s his internal issues made external. The person to date who has been most successful in helping Dean integrate his caring side and his warrior side is Sam.

    And that leads me to Sam’s arc, which to me is about Sam facing his darkness he got from the demon blood and how Lucifer shaped his life and redefining for himself who and what he is.

    To me, Sam’s story still includes the impact of drinking all that demon blood. Ruby told him if he drank the nurse, it would change him forever. She also told him he always had the power to access the power that killed Lilith and she was just Dumbo’s feather. Sam then drank buckets more of demon blood in Swan Song, which should have permanently changed him even more and in dark ways.

    So, he’s a vessel of Lucifer changed by demon blood, but he’s also now in charge of his own fate and identity. His journey I think is to squarely face his darkness and figure out how to ground himself in who he wants to be. He does seem to have let go a lot of his guilt and that’s good. But I haven’t seen Sam integrate his capacity for darkness with his desire for good to forge his own identity yet–at least, not while he is living topside. And to me, the only person who is essential to Sam in that journey is Dean, because as you say, Dean is the one in whom Sam needs to see unconditional love–both because of how Sam was raised and because only Dean knows the darkest parts of Sam.

    So I see each brother being essential to the journey of the other and that is the SamNDean arc.

    I don’t see Amelia being a grounding force for Sam, for more than one reason. She doesn’t know what he’s capable of and wouldn’t understand if he told her. As well, she has a bucketload of issues herself, which she deals with by being nasty, pushing people away and drinking a lot. To me, she really appeals to the worst aspects in Sam, not the best. I don’t see this as a mature relationship I hope Sam gets to experience. I think he needs to get out.

    Man, I know this got long—I’ll stop now. But it’s been very fun talking this out with you!

  • http://redskyie.tumblr.com/ redsky

    Ooh, these are all excellent points! I love discussions that give me more to think about, and I especially like to hear different points of view that result from such clear thinking as yours.

    I’m certainly going to be giving more thought to Amelia’s “appealing to the worst aspects in Sam” as we learn more about their relationship. I don’t think that just having issues of her own necessarily makes her an unsuitable partner in the short term, because unlike Dean and Lisa’s relationship (in which Lisa wasn’t presented as having any issues so she didn’t seem like a fully fleshed out character) Amelia and Sam do have the *potential* to share the emotional “work” equally, helping each other to heal emotionally rather than one person leaning on the other, and that’s precisely because they both have similar issues with grief. That’s what allowed them to connect. At the very least we know that being with Amelia was what enabled Sam to stop aimlessly running; since they had a home together. I think perhaps he helped her to stop hiding and pushing people away, and to start looking forward instead of back, making a home instead of the temporary “limbo” and separation of motel life.

    But long term, yes, you’re right in that the changed-by-demon-blood issue is unique to Sam and can only be understood by Dean, and here you may have just put your finger precisely on what causes problems for Sam and Amelia’s relationship later on as he begins to recover from his shock and grief and is able to think more clearly and needs more from the main relationship in his life than emotional first aid. Or in other words the emotional need I mentioned that was previously fulfilled by Dean and which Amelia is unable to fulfill.

    Unless I’m very much mistaken, what we’ve just done is to arrive, through discussion, at a synthesis of ideas. Yay! We don’t have to agree on every single thing – in fact if we didn’t have different viewpoints we wouldn’t have arrived at this point, where we can without a doubt declare this discussion productive.

    Thanks for a really engaging discussion. I look forward to hearing your take on the next episode!

  • Gerry

    It’s always great fun to discuss this show–it’s so rich, even when I’m having some issues with it. I’ll look forward to hearing from you next ep!

    On Amelia, I suspect we’re seeing the alcoholism for a reason–or at least, I hope it isn’t just a red herring. Sam did sneak out in the middle of the night, so there’s clearly more to the story than sparkly picnics.