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He's got the laser eyes!

OMG a post! About a season finale! That has only kind of recently finished airing, no less! Wonders: they never cease.

Although I'm afraid it's mostly going to be a rambling collection of thoughts about the broader arc and show and whatnot. My reaction to the finale upon its end was pretty much literally: LOL ILU SHOW :D:D. So there's that covered. *efficient*


I think the thing that's delighting me most, overall, is the way they're repeating Sam's S1-5 arc with Dean's S6-10 in structure, but inverting the action – because what works on Dean will be the flip of what worked on Sam, and all the variations and character notes they're getting to play out with that. With Sam, the abstract thinker (who didn't fit nor want to fit the hunting world), it was always the fear of the possible; with Dean, the concrete feeler (who fits entirely), it has to be the present reality. In this way, they're also able to manifest the things that were only suggested or feared the first time through – for just one example, Sam being "brought back wrong", not 100% pure Sam. And yet, this adroit little show casually, and with complete justification and from different directions both times, even manages to hit black-eyed demonic power working in each of them in precisely the same place in their journeys. I didn't imagine they would be so pointedly arch (and seriously, what show have I been watching, that they should still be able to surprise me with that kind of thing, but I am, I mean, what, Metatron with his "second draft", lol, although to be fair to me, I was anticipating the failed detox-lockdown, but then, who wasn't, so No Points For Me), but damn do I love it. ILU SHOW.

Incidentally, I don't think I've ever stated it explicitly here, beyond to say somewhere in my long-assed review of the Pilot:
In some ways, the whole destiny/free will arc is summed up in the brothers’ journey to learning what it takes to free themselves from the prison of the hunting life in order to be in The Fight as they choose to be, instead of because they’re trapped in it. The choice was never whether to fight, because that is simply their reality: to live is to fight. That’s the metaphor. It was always about how and why.
[bolding, er, mine, but new for this time around]
but to me, it's always been fairly clear that while there's a strong correlation, "The Fight" is not simply another word for the hunt. I wasn't intending to spend any time at all on fandom freakouts, especially over Sam because I stand by my what the fuck even, fandom? reaction there and it's just not worth it – but it is a point I've been meaning to make, and maybe even more relevant to Sam's journey this time around than last.

There is, in the show's paradigm, two ways to fight evil (leaving aside the question for now of how well and at what cost we see it done): The first is the direct combat, seeking out and destroying sources of evil that prey on life, which is represented by the hunt and which we spend all our time focussed on, because that's where the drama/story is. The second is to live that life – what is often characterised as "civilian" or "normal", which the hunt is trying to preserve and is viewed almost entirely from the outside – fighting evil not by destroying it but by creating life in spite of it. The two are coexistent – without the hunt, evil preys on life, and life itself stagnates into mere meaningless existence, but without life, the hunt has no point and devolves into its own kind of evil – but can't commingle: they are antithetical. Love, duty, sacrifice all exist within both, but need to be expressed in radically different ways, according to the situation. (I'm not going into the masculine/feminine dichotomy represented there, but as linked to before, fannishliss discusses it here.) Sam's longing for "normal" life is entirely as legitimate as Dean's dedication to the hunt, and for the same reasons. The point of their arcs is for them to get to where they can each live in the way they choose – fight in the way they choose – well. Sustainably, effectively, freely, wisely, humanly – well.

This time we have Dean's arc with Sam's journey entwined, just as 1-5 was Sam's arc with Dean's journey entwined. Dean, like Sam, starts off out of the hunt, with a woman astonishingly well suited to him, but the moment his brother shows up out of nowhere, needing him – but discouraging him from making it permanent – his heart is back in. Mary's death set him on that path long ago, he doesn't need to lose Lisa, in part because the loss of Mary and the hunting life he embraced meant that he never truly let himself have her or believe he could. (Flip, flip, flip.) S6's Get Sammy Back quest was S1's Find Dad (Sam: Get Revenge). (Another reason I'm convinced Soulless!Sam was meant to last most of the season, instead of half; in terms of plot function, Soul+Wall does nothing whatsoever that Cas/whoever just later restoring the soul, instead of tearing the wall down, wouldn't – other than getting *Sam* back on the page earlier.) Cas is off on a mysterious mission for which he abandons the boys, with the flipside of John's motives, yet still turns back up in time to be possessed by the next season's Big Bad and (apparently) destroyed by it. Etc, etc.

S7, as with S2, is set up with enough of a standalone enemy that, if the show isn't renewed, can still prove a more minor satisfying wrap-up, even though the world has been expanded since S1-2 so it's a bit more messy (although it's still on-point for theme: power grabs as order crumbles; who will end up top of the foodchain, and so on). Meanwhile, it gives them a season in which they can play out a lesser resolution to Dean's arc, like Sam's S2, that can stand as a false resolution if they do get to continue. Sam overcame his fears about himself being turned darkside – into a monster – against his will, and his own "ends justifies means" tendencies, and his very strong instinct for meaning/worth in self-preservation and life, even in a staged competition to the death that turned or killed all the other kids "like me", by choosing not to kill Jake. Dean, struggling with his own identity of hunter vs killer, of not being fit for "normal" and fearing that means he isn't fit for humanity, facing the seeming inevitability of the hunting life eventually dragging anyone who remains in it into the monstrous abyss, finds a sustainable human equilibrium and a place for his very strong instinct for meaning/worth in self-sacrifice and death in being a warrior. Yes, he's fighting a war. Yes, he's made for it; his identity is a warrior, suited to necessary war, in which humanity and honour – not "killer" – can form the core.

(An example of Sam-abstract vs Dean-concrete can be seen in the respective midpoint turn of those seasons: Sam learning that John believed he might potentially go darkside and had charged Dean to kill him if he does – vs – Dean losing his last real voice of guidance and anchor in the hunting world in Bobby. – Who himself then goes on to flip-echo John, refusing to embrace death and leave the fight to the boys, coming back all wrong at the end of the season to help, before being – as we learn – caught and dragged to Hell, as opposed to climbing free and assumably attaining Heaven.)

And then, in S3 and 8 (setting up 3-5 and 8-10 arcs), they take everything that has fallen into place and torque it right 'round, baby, right 'round. Sam is set on his path by the prospect of losing Dean to his deal; Dean is set on his path by the experience of a year of constant warfare in Purgatory, stripping him of the balance he'd found and which humanity and life provides (which Sam, in his heartache and exhaustion, had become mired in, utterly abandoning the hunt and the fight). At midpoint of S3, Dean (for whom the "light at the end of the tunnel" was hellfire) gets onboard with Sam saving him, essentially giving Sam (unneeded) permission to go to any lengths necessary, which fails and carries over into something far darker in S4; midpoint of S8, Sam (for whom the "light at the end of the tunnel" is living to get out to a normal life) puts himself on the rails to sacrifice, once more initiating Dean's Save Sam Prime Directive at any cost, which succeeds ... and carries over into something far darker in S9. S3-4, Sam's monster companion (in two incarnations) is Ruby, a twisted reflection of his heart's loss and need: a woman, a partner, Jess; who feeds him on lies of her memories of being human – normal – and on demon blood. S8-9, Dean's monster companion(s) is Benny and then Crowley, twisted reflections of his heart's loss and need: a brother-in-arms as much at home in the hunting world as he is; who genuinely remember their humanity and are, themselves, dependent on human blood. And, in S4/9, Sam and Dean each get a go at taking on a demonic source of power that makes them feel strong, invincible, finally able to overcome their enemies. Sam's – ingested – was "inside you all the time", and Dean's – scarred onto his skin – is taking him over, "making me into something I don't want to be". (And in Dean's detox, we see he's been throwing up freaky blood, heh.) Sam succeeds in killing Lilith, releases Lucifer, and lives through it; Dean fails to kill Metatron, dies, and ... well, we'll see. Flip, flip, flip.

On lies vs the genuine article: Sam bought into Ruby's lies of humanity not just because he needed to believe it was possible, if for only one other somebody out there, to not be defined by being a product of their world – that she remembered humanity just as he remembered normalcy and that changed what her choices could be – but because he had employed lies to try to attain and sustain normalcy and didn't, then, know any other way. The lies he told himself made him (usually so clear-sighted) unable to detect lies in a similar vein from someone else, lies he wanted to believe. Whereas with Dean, Benny especially had to be the real deal of monster-remembering-humanity, because Dean is not displaced, this is his world, and his unerring instinct for feeling when something is off has been demonstrated over and over (while being completely at sea in normal life). However, Benny could not be true to himself and still lead Dean astray, so served as the precursor for Crowley, who similarly had to be the real deal to sidle into the place Benny left and steer Dean to the place of temptation. For Sam, it took Ruby a season of build-up, because he fears the cost and the loss of the future; for Dean, it was accepted in one fell mid-season blow, knowing full well it shouldn't be trusted, because he doesn't care about the cost and doesn't think about the future because, as with Lisa, he's never believed he has one.

Which also means they got to play with pacing the final catalyst differently: you really are a monster/we can't be brothers. That's another thing that's been fun to watch, and maintains unpredictability, that while the broad movements are the same, the individual beats can, and even must, happen at a different rhythm. When Sam was detoxed of his demonic drug and rescued from Lucifer's rising, with the rock-bottom humbling of seeing just where his hubris had brought him, it was the work of a single epic moment, which he spent S5 coming to terms with. It seems likely that Dean's detox and humbling could be comparable to Sam's S4 build-up and take a good part of S10, but really who knows. Another factor would be, if they decide to continue to S11 (because, let's be the realest real in Realdonia here, they are going to keep going as long as they all want to), whether they feel they want to stretch the arc, or keep it five seasons and wipe the arc slate clean again. I'd be a bit surprised if they did go for stretching it, but mostly I'm along for the ride just to see what they want to try.

So let's talk arcs and journeys. Dean's S6-10 arc is mostly a retread of his S1-5 journey, learning to love and support Sam by letting Sam go; willing to let Sam's choices be Sam's choices, trusting that that is his part in Saving Sam. What, after all, is the point of rescuing someone from evil if it is not to let them live their life, however they choose that to be? Because that is exactly what evil is trying to take away. Of course, Dean having already conclusively reached that point at the end of S5, they had to break it down again, through his year (and some) of suffering the grief of letting Sam go to the Cage, through witnessing Sam's suffering once his soul was restored, then compounding it with guilt at failing to save his lesser brother-figures of Cas and Benny (and, not to be left out in the family stakes, father-figure Bobby). (This would be the flip of breaking down Sam's initial confidence in his own free will/choices by tearing away the normal life he'd attained at Stanford, and his guilt over failing to save Jess.) When Dean says he can't let go, that it isn't in him, it's not true; we've seen him do it, repeatedly. However, at this stage it feels true to him, and what he's actually saying is he can't let go any more.

Rather more subtle and complex is Sam's journey as driven by Dean's arc, as Dean's S1-5 journey was driven by Sam's arc. Having already mastered his character arc of free will and self-possession/determination, a repetition/expansion won't work, so they get to take a step back and look at his other character issues. For both him and Dean, their greatest strengths, when knocked out of kilter, explicitly become their most dangerous flaws and weaknesses, and the basis of their arcs/journeys. (Additionally, when they're knocked off-kilter in their own arc and unable to access or trust their own instincts, they default to emulating their formative, trusted authority figure: Sam to Dean; Dean to John.) Sam's choices and self-determination to act, because of the position he was put in and who he is, became the single most powerful deciding force in the world, hence the attempts to turn, corrupt, possess, and otherwise control that choice. Having been tested and proven to the utmost, there is no enemy who can now threaten him with possession of his will; Gadreel had to be accepted, and was expelled in short order as soon as Sam decided to. Self-determination remains an external aspect of Sam's journey because it is subject to Dean's arc of relinquishing control over him (where Dean's capacity to call Sam back to himself – to Sam's own freedom to act – makes him the only being in existence any more who is able to deny Sam his will, which is twisted into the flaw Dean must overcome), but it is not his internal battle this time.

Instead, they've pulled his capacity for compartmentalization out into the thematic spotlight. This was in play from the Pilot on; it has always been his first fallback for dealing with problems. He is amazingly good at it, which becomes a problem when he automatically relies on it when it can't ultimately work in reality. He misapplied it at Stanford, thinking he could cut the hunt and his family curse out of his life by will alone, and, ignored and denied, it blindsided him and took everything. He misapplied it to himself, trying to deny the parts of himself he hated or feared, and it was through those schisms of self-fear and self-deception that his enemies were able to manipulate him. (It was Dean's ongoing acceptance of him in whole, freak and all, that formed the basis for him to accept and regain full command of himself; even in the key moment when Dean rejected him, it was in whole. Dean, always wholly undivided in himself, doesn't know any other way.) Just as with Dean's themes, this time they are playing it out concretely, beginning with separating soul from body (which is the only way he is suited and happy in the hunting life), and all the ways that then played out. In order to remain in his year off, he must silence his conscience, which his reflection in Amelia slowly reawakened in the micro, challenging him with his responsibility for the dog he hit, and eventually became loud enough to drive him all on his own back into the hunt. His key rejection of Dean is to compartmentalize: we can work together, we can't be brothers. (Which he instinctively renounced in, what, two episodes? Three? Oh, Sam. Also, I love you Sam, I adore you, but let's face it, you don't have the most sterling record of offering informed consent when it comes to others. Just a thought.)

In the finale of S1, we saw Dean breaking through the possession of a family member with John, which would then be scaled up for Sam at the end of S5. In the finale of S6, we saw Sam taken out of the fight, and Dean choosing to fight on without him, and Sam then overcoming, accepting and integrating the discrete parts of himself that carried the consequences of most pain and guilt from his choices and actions into one whole self, in time to show up and help Dean defeat one illegitimately attempting to become God. I can't imagine how S10 will play out. (That was sarcasm. I have some ideas. However, I don't mind being completely wrong, provided they bring it. Which, going by their previous record, they will.) And here's the thing: once processed and fully owning all of who he is, and then correctly applied, Sam's ability to compartmentalize is what will allow him to live his normal life as he chooses and as he should. Because there will always be the injured dog of the demands of the hunt lying out there on the road. His brother will always be out there, fighting. Always. His journey this time around is to get to the point where he can say that fight is not his, and neither guilt nor love can successfully demand otherwise. Will it be hard? Of course. That's part of the Fight to preserve "normal" life from evil. But to live is to fight. That's always the metaphor. And it's always about how and why.


In conclusion: LOL ILU SHOW.

Also, addendum tiems.

Comments

( 6 speakses — have a speak )
borgmama1of5
Jun. 5th, 2014 10:50 am (UTC)
This is the only meta I've read that makes me see that there has been some intentional overall arc to season 6-9! I have despaired of the way seasons 8 & 9 have seemingly been all over the place, so you're ability to see a pattern and how it mirrors the first 5 seasons, and explain it in a way I can see it too, makes me hopeful in a way I haven't been for 2 years!
themonkeytwin
Jun. 7th, 2014 05:11 am (UTC)
I'm glad it's encouraged you! Though I'm sorry to hear there isn't more hopeful meta out there. There's probably something to be said in not being engaged with fandom reactions at this stage, since emotions do run high especially at this point of the arc (S4 was pretty explosive too, if I remember), and so much of it has shifted to tumblr which isn't so good for context and perspective. Plus it's messier, or at least less streamlined, this second time through since they're having to keep the old balls in the air and juggle in new ones. Hopefully we'll enjoy watching how they bring it all together!
fannishliss
Jun. 5th, 2014 11:05 am (UTC)
wow, so many thoughts!!!

And all so intriguing!

Many of my friends seemed so shocked and surprised when Dean turned demon.... to me it seemed inevitable. I really like your point about how the year in Purgatory unbalanced Dean. I was really unsettled by it when it happened, and then it kind of faded back, but it was then that Dean really embraced becoming the blade.

There is also this problem:
Dean has been purged before. When Castiel found him in Hell, he was a fully fledged torturer and a demon in his own right, and Castiel restored him. So I think that Dean feels like he can do things like take the Mark and worry about it later. Unfortunately, the Mark seems to have a pretty strong influence on his thoughts and desires. Right now, despite his truer self, he may not want to be saved. Whereas previous seasons have often resolved the cliffhanger right away, this one has the potential to be farther reaching, for example if Dean chooses to hide his new demonic nature, or if he leaves and goes with Crowley.

My Boy King of Hell bent would love to see Sammy challenge Crowley for the throne of Hell, just to get Dean back. But that sounds like a fanfic and not actually show. :P

I really like your point about how Sammy's urge toward civilian life is in balance with Dean's acceptance of the Hunt. btw thanks for citing me :D

It's really true that that alignment has been in play since the very beginning and is still in play. I read an article once that insisted that Sam represents the viewer. So that question is always in the back of my mind -- who is the pov character in this show? As a Deangirl, for me it is Dean. But.... I have never felt further removed from Dean's character than I do right now. His moral compass is spinning like he's in the Bermuda Triangle.

So yeah, that balance between Living and Fighting is neatly summed up by the tensions between Sam and Dean, and made complicated in interesting by the ways they are invested in on one other's vocations. Basically the balance they're looking for is: Dean will live if Sam will agree to fight; Sam will fight if Dean will agree to live. Really nice brainwork. Thanks!
themonkeytwin
Jun. 7th, 2014 05:59 am (UTC)
Many of my friends seemed so shocked and surprised when Dean turned demon

... Huh. Is this really how fandom is reading it? Someone else was talking like this was the established understanding, although apart from that I have had about zero contact with fandom so I didn't know quite how widespread it was. I mean, the themes are the same, but at this point, I'm mostly expecting his black eyes to signify demonic influence/power working through him – to about the same extent that it did for Sam when his eyes went black when he killed Lilith. Not that he's full-blown "demon". I mean, I'm not expecting him to get the insta-cleanse Sam did, I agree he's likely going to have a long hard climb ahead of him, but for fandom to take it as signifying something as total as "Dean's a demon!" is a bit ... simple? Very black and white, anyway, especially for this show, which spends so much time exploring the wide swathes of grey between those poles. Although not surprising, really, because *fandom*. And I'm sure it's the kind of tizzy the writers were trying to create, hah, those devious wonderful bastards.

I guess differences of interpretation is at work, really, because I also never read him as coming back from Hell as fully-fledged torturer/demon, just that he had broken – ie, started irrevocably down the path, with no ability in himself in those circumstances to turn back, before Cas intervened. I mean, the pain, fear, remorse, guilt, etc – the feeling he wished he was no longer capable of – he showed in the way he regarded it signalled to me that he still had plenty of humanity left that Hell had yet to strip him of over hundreds more years before he would become an actual demon. I do agree about his recklessness having some basis on his experiences of survival over the last decade or so. Either way, he doesn't dwell in the "what ifs".

You're welcome for the cite, it's a fascinating area of thought that I really enjoy, and highly applicable to show! I just find I don't have the stomach to try to discuss it online very much, it's got too much identity politics attached to do so productively, unfortunately.

The pov character question is an interesting one! I personally think it's as simple as Sam being the "normal life" pov character and Dean being "the hunt" pov character, both bringing their valid pov to bear on The Fight. Which is why they can clash so deeply on worldview and values, and still both be (incompletely) in the right in the points they're making? It's probably also why Sam is seen as representing the average "normal life" viewer, bringing with him the civilian understanding into the alien war-motifed environment of the hunt, while Dean attracts the viewers who have internalised disenfranchisment from the normal. That their arcs completely unmoor them and force them to come to terms with the values of their worldviews is part of their coming-of-age journeys.

Anyway. Thanks for discussing! :)
im_ridiculous
Jun. 8th, 2014 01:26 pm (UTC)
I love YOU, woman. And ALL OF THE THOUGHTS. Love. :D
themonkeytwin
Jun. 9th, 2014 01:16 pm (UTC)
I LOVE YOOOUUU. I ran out of time to do justice to your email, lol. It is coming! :D
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