Supernatural continues its meticulous deconstruction of Dean in the 16th episode of its fifth season, “Dark Side of the Moon”. The episode’s plot is relatively simple: Sam and Dean are killed by hunters angry at Sam starting the Apocalypse.
In Heaven, Sam and Dean are told by Castiel to look for Joshua, an angel who talks to God. Meanwhile, the brothers have to dodge Zachariah, whose powers of persuasion are much stronger on his turf, and who hasn’t given up on forcing Dean’s hand at saying yes to Michael. While in Heaven, Sam and Dean cross paths with some familiar faces: Ash and Pamela, who help them attain Joshua’s presence. Unfortunately, the message from God is grim; Sam and Dean return to earth with Dean a little more broken than before.
The concept of heaven developed as a sort of replay of one’s “greatest hits” in the form of memories and happy places. As Ash explains it, there isn’t one heaven; it’s more like a collection of billions of little heavens, like Disneyland. It’s an interesting yet depressing construct – that we, social beings at heart, are meant to live out eternity alone in our little worlds. Perhaps it’s a reflection of the individualistic society we live in, and perhaps the billions of souls who lived and died in less individualistic societies in the past have a ‘shared heaven’.
The first scene of Dean was heart-wrenching, as we see him go back to 1996, when things were so much simpler (well, relatively so). He was still Sam’s awesome older brother who sneaked him away from their father to light some firecrackers for the 4th of July. Superimpose that nostalgic moment with Bob Dylan’s "Knocking on Heaven’s Door" (the second time this song was featured on Supernatural) and you got yourself quite a tear-jerker not even five minutes into the episode.
As soon as Dean grasps where he is, his first concern is, of course, Sam. Castiel, communicating with him through the Impala’s radio (which of course would be part of Dean’s heaven), guides him by identifying Dean’s path through heaven, his ‘access mundi’, is the actual road he’s on. I’m assuming again that no one was surprised by this, what with his love of cars and the countless time he spent on the road?
Sam’s conception of heaven is slightly different, as Dean finds him at what Sam describes his ‘first real Thanksgiving’ when he was 11 years old. Needless to say, this provides an opportunity for Dean to make fun of his brother (“Wait, so playing footsie with brace face in there, that’s a trophy moment for you?”).
Realising that they are in heaven confuses Sam:
Sam: How are we in Heaven? … You I get. Sure. But me? Maybe you haven’t noticed, but I’ve done a few things…?
Dean: You thought you were doing the right thing.
Sam: Last I checked, it wasn’t the road to heaven that was paved with good intentions.
The conception of heaven is intimately connected to the conception of the meaning of life on this earth. Is it a ‘reward’ for the good things we have done on earth? If so, there are very few who are going to make it to the penthouse suite. Or is heaven the next phase of our development as spiritual beings? If it’s the next phase of our spiritual development, wouldn’t everyone be headed to a better place, each of which would depend on ourselves, since “heaven and hell are conditions within our own beings”?
Whatever the nature of the Heaven they are in, the brothers quickly realise that something is wrong when everything suddenly starts shaking, the lights in the house go out, and a bright light – reminiscent of the light used by the aliens in The X-Files – pours from the windows to search the inside of the house. Castiel, communicating through a TV, tells the boys about Zachariah pursuing them and tells them how to get to Joshua and, most importantly, why:
Castiel: You think maybe, just maybe, we should find out what the hell God has been saying?
Dean: Wow. Touchy.
What with Dean’s past comments regarding God, I wasn’t sure which way the rest of the conversation would go; needless to say, I (and probably a couple of fans out there) was a little surprised at Dean’s willingness to fulfill Castiel’s request without a single quip or negative comment.
I have been wondering for awhile if the meticulous deconstruction of Dean is being done to tear away the veils that are keeping him – and, by proxy, Sam – from becoming the two people they need to be to fight the Apocalypse.
Dean finds a road in the closet in the form of a car track, complete with loop the loop. He and Sam are transported into yet another memory, that of a four-year-old Dean wearing a “I Wuv Hugz” T-shirt playing in his bedroom – yet another glimpse into what could have been. Of course Dean can’t help but stay a little longer in this memory (“Sam. Please. One minute”), during which he remembers a particularly difficult time in John and Mary’s relationship. This offers Sam insight into his brother’s psyche ("I just never realised how long you’ve been cleaning up Dad’s messes.").
And we also find out that perhaps the reason why Dean loves pie so much isn’t only because it tastes so good (how I love me some pie), but rather because of a powerful emotional connection which we had guessed before, but never really had proof of ("You are my little angel. How about some pie?").
It’s all the more interesting that this is the first time either we the audience or the Winchester brothers realise that Mary and John didn’t have the perfect marriage the latter insisted they had:
Sam: Dad always said they had the perfect marriage.
Dean: It wasn’t perfect until after she died.
It’s as if once we don’t have something any more that we can see beyond its limitations. I wonder if this episode – i.e. John moving out for a couple of days – was right before Mary’s death, and if this in any way influenced John in his quest for Azazel.
The contrast between Dean’s ‘greatest hits’ with the ones from Sam is rather jarring. The boys find themselves at Flagstaff, in a cabin of sorts where Sam hid away at some point in their young lives. Apparently he ran away under Dean’s watch, and the latter spent two weeks looking all over for him. Sam’s happiness at remembering the joy he felt at Flagstaff isn’t easy for Dean to bear. It becomes even harder for Dean once they step into Sam’s next memory: the night when Sam left Dean and their father for college, an event that ranks pretty low in Dean’s life ("This is your idea of heaven? Wow. This is like one of the worse nights of my life.").
While I’m tempted to accuse Sam of being self-centered as I have in the past, it begs to be mentioned that Dean doesn’t make it easy on his younger brother to see things from his perspective. And as is clearly shown by the look of guilt on Sam’s face, he doesn’t feel proud of himself once he realises what Flagstaff means to Dean. Quite honestly, I wouldn’t be surprised that once Sam really dies, Flagstaff will not be part of his ‘greatest hits’ anymore.
And so, while Sam is, to some extent, self-centered, he definitely isn’t either uncaring or devoid of guilt. It also begs to be mentioned that Sam’s version of Heaven might have angered Dean because he took it personally, and had he been less self-centered – yes, I said it! – Dean would have realised that while Sam’s departure was hard for him, it wasn’t because of him; it was because of Sam’s own limitations and difficulties dealing with the life John had chosen for them. It doesn’t mean Sam doesn’t love either his brother or his father; for are these moments ‘greatest hits’ for Sam because he is turning away from his family, or rather because he is turning away from the heavy responsibility of being a hunter, as well as starting the Apocalypse?
Unfortunately (or fortunately?), their discussion is interrupted by none other than Zachariah, from which the brothers can’t run away from – until the timely intervention of none other than Ash. Back at the roadhouse – Ash’s slice of heaven – the boys meet up with Pamela. Together they come up with a plan to get Sam and Dean to the Garden, where they will be able to meet with Joshua.
Before the plan is put together, we do find out something interesting — that Sam and Dean have been in heaven before. Ash says, "This ain’t the first time you’ve been here! I mean you boys die more than anyone I have ever met. … You don’t remember. God, angels must have Windexed your brains."
Even more interesting is that not only hasn’t Ash found either Mary or John Winchester, but that even equipped with a ‘Heaven scanner’, he has never heard about Ellen and Jo coming arriving in Heaven. I wonder why.
At the 'Roadhouse', Dean had this interesting exchange with Pamela:
Pamela: I know Michael wants to take you out for a test drive. … what happens if you play ball with him? Worse case.
Dean: A lot of people die.
Pamela: And then they come here! Is that really so bad? Look. Maybe you don’t have to fight it so hard. It’s all I’m trying to say.
I have had more than a bit of a hard time with this exchange. Pamela does have a point, in that those who are going to die in the fight between Michael and Lucifer are headed to a better place. However, does this give a good reason for Dean to say yes to Michael without looking for another way out?
Then again, by not saying yes, Dean is allowing demons to run the Earth, and ultimately, the very same people he doesn’t want killed were he to say yes to Michael are suffering. Doesn’t it make more sense to say yes now that Lucifer is in a body that can’t contain him for much longer, have Michael and Lucifer battle it out and end the suffering of all the people caught in the Apocalypse? I know that were I given the choice, I would gladly die in the crossfire of the battle between Michael and Lucifer if I knew Michael was most probably going to win and this win ensures that those of us who are still alive can live happily ever after.
The boys’ meeting with Joshua was fascinating. I don’t know if it’s a sign of my personal limitations regarding my understanding of concepts such as faith, free will, and detachment, but I have yet to understand fully the reasons behind many things.
First off, why is Joshua’s Garden yet another concept in Heaven centered on the individual? (“You see what you want here.”) Just like humans are social beings that are meant to live together, shouldn’t Heaven be about being together and continuing our spiritual development through social interactions? After all, no one has been able to develop spiritual qualities in a cave! I guess that, yet again, it depends on one’s perception of the meaning of life in the first place.
Second, Joshua tells the boys that God is walking the Earth. Is He using as a vessel? If so, who is it?
Third, God’s message was rather harsh. He already knows everything (duh) and apparently wants the boys to back off and let things run their course. To top it off, God doesn’t want to intervene, because “He doesn’t think it’s His problem.”
Needless to say, Dean isn’t very happy with this, and it leads him deeper into his crisis of faith:
Joshua: Magic amulet or not, you won’t be able to find Him.
Dean: But He can stop it. He could stop all of it.
Joshua: I suppose He could. But He won’t. …
Dean: So He’s just going to sit back and watch the world burn?
Joshua: I know how important this was to you, Dean. I’m sorry.
Dean: Forget it. Just another dead beat dad with a bunch of excuses. Well I’m used to that. I’ll muddle through.
Joshua: Except you don’t know if you can this time. You can’t kill the devil. And you’re losing faith: in yourself, your brother, and now this. God was your last hope. I just… I wish I could tell you something different.
Why is Dean’s faith being so meticulously being taken apart? Is it because there really is no hope, and we should expect season six to be about the self-destruction of Lucifer? Or is it rather because to better strengthen his faith, Dean’s must be first taken apart?
Keeping in mind his fight with Sam, all of this makes me wonder why Dean threw the amulet in the garbage can (and I do hope Sam fished it out). Is it because of the God connection, or because he realised that Sam’s heaven is a place without his family?
Even worse than Dean’s crisis of faith was the shattering of Castiel’s faith in God as he is denied once again. His swearing at Him was absolutely heartbreaking and, to be honest, more so than Dean’s hopelessness. Why is this happening? Is Castiel’s faith, like Dean's, being broken only to be rebuilt, stronger than ever? It reminds me yet again of another quote: “Thou beholdest how the tempestuous winds of tests have caused the steadfast in faith to tremble, and how the breath of trials hath stirred up those whose hearts had been firmly established…” Is Castiel only trembling at the moment? Will he be able to cling, despite a momentary wavering, to his faith? And what will be his reward if he does manage to remain steadfast? “Blessed are the steadfastly enduring, they that are patient under ills and hardships, who lament not over anything that befalleth them, and who tread the path of resignation…”
Which brings us back to the biggest question of this episode: why doesn't God want to intervene? Each time I think about this question, I can’t help but think of why a parent wouldn’t intervene if his kids were fighting – and a real fight, involving punches, broken noses, and torn ligaments.
This in turn brings us back to what we believe in. If we believe that there is such a thing as an all-Loving God, then there must be a loving reason, however mysterious it might be, why all of this is happening. If this is the case, perhaps God knows that were He to intervene, it would only serve to delay the Apocalypse. Perhaps He could get rid of Lucifer permanently, but as we have seen, what with Zachariah’s attitude problem for one, the problems are a lot deeper than Lucifer being a bad boy. It’s about pettiness, greed, avarice – it’s about expurgating the real reason why Lucifer fell in the first place.
Which brings us back to free will. If God takes care of this mess, what’s the point of having given us free will? It would be like the parent teaching a child to walk – what’s the point of teaching it to walk in the hallways of the house if the parent is going to keep it in his arms once outside? While the parent would be doing so to protect the child, it would only be doing him a disservice. Better let the child fall a couple of times and learn how to walk rather than remain dependent for the rest of his life.
Being a spoiler junkie, I heard a little while ago that this episode was going to be about the brothers going to Heaven. I couldn’t help but chuckle at what I thought was the inevitable embarrassing scene of Dean being in a strip club or something to that effect, reminiscent of Anna’s crashing of his dream in "The Song remains the Same" (5×13). The fact that nowhere in Dean’s heaven do we see sign a sign of anything remotely connected to naked women is telling in itself, and demonstrates yet again that his macho-ness is, for the most part, a carefully constructed veneer.
Why are the writers revisiting a concept that has been visited so many times before? Is it only to kill time, or are they building up (or rather, breaking down) to something that depends on this meticulous deconstruction? Or are they taking advantage of the fact that their audience has built such a strong emotional connection with the show’s characters that they can delve deeper and deeper into such themes?
After an awesome five-year run, I choose to trust the writing and production team of Supernatural and eagerly await to see where this deconstruction is taking us.