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TV Review: Supernatural – “The Girl Next Door” and “Defending Your Life” Set Up Season Seven

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“Defending Your Life” picks up the shocking ending of “The Girl Next Door” and shows us why Supernatural is still so intriguing in its seventh season. Using the device of a trial presided over by Osiris, we get a rare glimpse inside Dean Winchester, known for holding his feelings close to his chest, mostly by drowning them in alcohol. We’ve had a lot of good exploration over the years of Sam trying to define himself in light of his flaws; now it’s Dean’s turn.

Dean and Sam have both been, literally and figuratively, through hell, but they handle the inevitable shades of gray in their lives very differently. Sam has been tormented by knowing he is somehow different, perhaps not quite human, since he was a boy. He’s always worried whether he falls on the black or the white side of morality, making him sympathetic to the idea of gray areas. His questions about his own identity came to the fore when his soul was stripped away.

Sam without a soul showed through contrast just how much troubled Sam always cared about the important stuff. And, now, perhaps because Sam has always shared his feelings rather than bury them, he can live with that. In a lovely piece of irony, Sam has been healed by getting his damaged soul back, despite the wounds to his psyche. In Sam’s eyes, he may have made many mistakes, but his stint in hell paid his dues. Hallucinations or not, Sam is now emotionally healthier than he was at the start of the series. Dean is in a very different place.

Jensen Ackles and Jared Padalecki as Sam and Dean WinchesterBobby immediately knows why it is a very bad thing for Dean to cross paths with a god who is the judge, jury and executioner of guilty people. Dean is a natural guilt magnet. At the age of four, he was given charge of his brother, denying Dean a childhood and at the same time making him feel responsible for Sam’s happiness.

At the trial, Sam argues very successfully he was destined to be a hunter, bred for the purpose by angels and demons. He does not blame his brother for that fateful night Dean showed up at his door, asking him to join in the search for their father. Nor does deceased friend Jo blame Dean for helping her become a hunter. But the trial is not about whether either of these two blames Dean.

Despite Sam’s excellent defence skills, Osiris is actually measuring how much Dean blames himself. Dean has been shaped by competing forces. He was made into both a hunter and a caregiver as a young child and given no help in how to balance these huge responsibilities. His response has been to deny the conflict and bury his feelings in alcohol or women.

Season six forced Dean to admit the conflict. With Sam apparently gone, the older Winchester tried to leave his life as a hunter for life as a lover and a father. Dean always seemed the one who accepted the hunter’s life, more so than Sam. But underneath his cool facade, Dean has always been centered on family. Oddly, for a character who does not share his feelings easily, he is the emotional centre of the show. We love Bobby in part because Dean needs a father so badly. We saw Castiel through Dean’s eyes, playing the older brother to a being older than the universe. Dean values his relationships more than anything else. Unfortunately, his very presence often endangers those relationships.

Dean’s life with Lisa and Ben taught him first of all there is no black and white, and secondly, that he has to make choices like there is. He truly valued his family and yet he never fit within it the way he fits as a hunter, mostly because he knew he would draw trouble into their lives. He did everything he could to protect Lisa and Ben, which only served to drive them away because he could not simply be present and loving. He was caught between two worlds. He hurt Ben by abandoning him, but had to abandon him to save him. One of the saddest moments of last season for me was the scene where Ben lied to Dean to get him to come home. Dean had no words to answer his son’s accusations of leaving his family. But he knew he was the very danger he was always trying to fight.

About Gerry Weaver

  • Amy

    Really excellent analysis of Dean. I agree with you that his arc this season is a fascinating set up but I do feel that in the last 2 episodes we have been let down in how it has been translated to the viewer. Dean is a complex human being and you and I both have a deep understanding of who he is and why he reacts the way he does. But if that understanding is lacking, is this truly being communicated? I look forward to finding out! Thank you for sharing your thoughts so eloquently.

  • Gerry

    Thanks so much, Amy, for stopping by and commenting!

    I guess time will tell whether Dean suits the kind of character arcs Sam has had over the last six years. Sam has always talked about his feelings, so the audience never has to guess.

    Dean is such a different character that I think this kind of “on the nose” writing is not an option if the writers write him truthfully. I guess you can tell that so far, I think Jensen Ackles’ non-verbal language has communicated volumes about his state of mind.

    I’m really optimistic about the rest of the season.

  • Shelley & Alison Weaver

    Alison giggled, pointed and agreed with everything you said. I don’t watch Supernatural but after reading your review I might have to look for it.

  • Laurie

    This is the best analysis of Dean’s viewpoint in episodes 3 and 4 I have read! You’ve answered many of my own doubts and I’m adopting your view as my own. You’ve helped me see it all in a way that is consistent with Dean’s character, and helped my own enjoyment of the rest of the season. Thanks!

  • Gerry

    Laurie, thanks for reading! I’m glad some of what I wrote resonated for you. I’m enjoying this season. I love getting these looks into the boys.