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The Road So Far: 1.02, Wendigo

The Road So Far
1.02 Wendigo

SPNWiki entry for synopsis, trivia, etc.

Wherein the boys get on with saving people, hunting things. Wherein Sam wrestles with the conflicting demands of the hunt and finding Dad, and Dean doesn’t do shorts. And wherein I abuse italics and occasionally employ lolspeak.

(Possible spoilers for all aired episodes.)

Blackwater Ridge
Lost Creek, Colorado

This is gonna go well.

As will be the case with most episodes, we have the MotW cold open. Creepy, gory stuff, ew, happening to random unsuspecting civilians, etc. And the first victim of the boys’ first official hunt is ... a black dude. (Although the white dude follows right after, and *doubletakes* ... did the Wendigo just kill Finn Hudson? Bwah, that shouldn’t be as funny as it is! – Wait, no, he gets saved for later nom-noms. Well, either way. Heh.) Well, this is going to be a Thing at some point, so why not thrash it out right now?

I’ll try not to take too long, because the controversies over the treatment of race and women are really tangental at best to the story that Show is trying to tell. If you don’t care too much about the issue as it pertains to Show, feel free to skip the section. (So as not to double-up on words, here’s my take on what SPN is and is not about, and thus what I’ll be concentrating on in this project. Short version: Show is about the brothers, which it has always got exactly right. Everything else is there to serve that story, and is adapted or neglected to suit. So. Carrying on.)

So, attempting to address the issue of both race and gender on Show in a serious manner (since my read on both is the same, as far as Show goes):

1) There is never a good way to do these things, and by “good” I mean “a way to do it that will please everyone”. Everyone has their own hot-button with the issues, which are pushed by different things. Someone will always complain (“Fail!”) that you’re being racist, disrespectful, etc, by including victims of race. Or by excluding victims of race. By including or excluding the issue of ethnicity; by depicting a range of characters of a particular ethnicity (strong/weak, die/survive, etc) or by making them all paragons, or whatever. Ditto misogyny. Et-freaking-cetera.

2) One of the themes of Show is the effects/consequences/toll of evil. One of the things about evil is that it is not fair, can we agree on that at least? Also that it will most affect those most vulnerable – evil preys on the weak (I feel like I’m speaking solely in tautologies here). One of the ways people can be weak is through having fewer resources to defend themselves from attack. That does not correlate to lack of value of character or anything else; it is simply the way things are. A child is more vulnerable to a violent adult than another adult is. Neither this statement nor this reality connotes inequality of personhood.

3) Given that reality is inconveniently dragging its heels about catching up with ideals, the situation very often is that race and gender affect the resources available to people. Again, making no value judgement on that (for now): it’s the way things currently stand. Thus, people of colour, or women, are in reality usually more vulnerable to the effects of evil. When a plague sweeps through a population, the greatest toll is taken on the old, the very young, and the already-weak – not because they are worth less as people, but because they simply have less at their disposal with which to defend themselves against it.

4) Therefore, if Show (or the horror genre itself) has a greater-than-strictly-proportional ratio of black or female victims (and I’m not saying Show does; I have absolutely no idea how you would go about calculating such a thing), then it is reflecting an actual paradigm of societal evil. (I’m not saying that’s a deliberate choice by the makers, either. I have no idea. But at the very least it can play a subconscious role in their choices, and that is not necessarily wrong.) And, in case it isn’t blindingly obvious, depicting or examining something is not the same as endorsing it. For that, you might want to look at how it’s depicted, which is where questions of racism or misogyny legitimately apply.

5) Show is horror. It has to have victims. The whole point of horror is that it is horrific because the victims have value. If the victims had no value, the violence done to them would not be horrific. That Show can’t spend enough of its 40-minute run-time to build as much empathy for a victim as would be ideal, and that we therefore do not invest in their deaths as much, is a reflection on our valuation system as much as it is Show’s.

6) I personally think Show does a better-than-average job at avoiding stereotypes, even if their ratios of representation aren’t the best (again, by what standard do we measure the “correct” ratio of ethnic or gender representation?). Its human characters of different ethnicities and both genders run the gamut of agenda, morality, ability, strength, complexity and so on. Moreover, all things being equal (ha), demons appear to be equal-opportunity-possessors; and if the very small sample pool that we have of angels have a tendency to inhabit what they perceive as powerful male types, then that says something about them, not necessarily their Writers. Casualties likewise have taken a pretty even-handed approach; the fact that the only three human characters we know will not die off are white males is simply a function of the story being told.

There. I have no doubt this will come up again at various points (Route 666 comes to mind), but that is the essence of my attitude to that whole tangled mess within fandom, formed largely on the random encounters I’ve had with it. I do believe that these issues are serious ones, and well worth discussing, but I also maintain that it’s not the point of this story. I’m doing this to examine the story, not those issues, except as they specifically relate to the story, so I don’t intend to get sidetracked into arguing about them (not that that means I won’t, but I’m going to try to avoid it).

SO. The guy who showed the most onscreen devotion to his family and has the most expositionly significant dialogue is taken last, and we know he’s the Most Important Victim. Yay for horror conventions/vocabulary!

Paolo Alto, California
Grand Junction

Puppy needs a group hug. :(

... Except that’s not where we really are, because this is Sam’s nightmare. Where Sam demonstrates the standard crippling Winchester guilt when it comes to dead loved ones – “I should have protected you.” – and the oft-expressed sentiment that someone should have told someone else what was really going on – “I should have told you the truth.” (Ie, John bawling out Dean for not telling him about Sam’s visions in Salvation, the idea that Adam would still be alive if John had told him the truth in Shark, Mary never telling John about any of it, Dean hiding what John told him from Sam until Hunted, and many more examples I’m sure, but this is the Winchesters we’re talking about and I don’t have all day, here.) Yet, somehow, it takes them forever to learn to act on that and tell one another the truth in the moment. (Grrrr...)

(For the tallies: he tears up but they don't fall. I don't think that counts.)

And, intentionally or not, the classic horror shot they choose to end the nightmare is that of the hand of the dead, punching through the grave to trap the living to itself....

The boys are “just outside of Grand Junction”, and Dean is naturally worried about Sam and his nightmares. But his terse, “You okay?” when Sam jerks awake tells us that this is becoming a worn-out question, and he’s not expecting any answer other than the one Sam gives. I don’t know, fandom kind of holds that it’s Dean who has to be pushed to open up, but Sam’s not such a big talker, either. (After all, he kept his past life from the love of his life for a year and a half, and Dean told Cassie in a couple of weeks.) They both have to be pushed if it's something they want to hide. Luckily, they each have a brother for that.

Dean, of course, doesn’t believe him, but he’s not going to push it. His little reactions show that he’s in standby-mode, sizing up the situation before he jumps in, as he will also do in this hunt. For example, when Sam starts worrying that they should have stayed at Stanford longer, Dean’s heard all this (or variations) before, and knows better than to argue (even though it seems counter-intuitive, growing up between John and Sam has made Dean not usually the rash one; he’s learned better than that); he neutrally reminds Sam that it wasn’t doing any good, and then says, “If you want to find the thing that killed Jessica....” Thus he expertly nudges the worries circling in Sam’s head out of their obsessive rut, reminding him of the larger perspective. He’s cueing Sam to reorient himself to the objective again, without drawing attention to what he’s doing. So Sam finishes the sentence Dean left hanging for him: “Gotta find Dad first.”

Everything's PERFECTLY OKAY.

(All that’s left for Dean to offer as a panacea for the soul right now is to let Sam drive the Impala – which he’s never, ever voluntarily offered before. He’s experimenting with everything he can think of to help Sam, but the problem is the only things he knows how to think of right now are the things that work on himself. (I wonder how often John used that as a peace offering between himself and Dean, before he ended up giving him the car.) But Sam knows where the offer comes from even when Dean says it’s no big deal; neither of them are fooling the other in their denials. It’s their refusal to honestly communicate that keeps their forward movement slow, unwilling to confront stuff until they’re forced to, but despite the high blood pressure it causes us fangirls, that’s what people do. Still, some of it does get across, and Sam gets the message anyway.)

Their conversation confirms that Gotta Find Dad is the quest for S1, the only way to hunt down whatever’s responsible for the deaths of Mary and Jess. It also gives us a beat of Dean’s emotional need to find Dad (“Dad’ll have answers. He’ll know what to do.”) which, no, Sam doesn’t notice, already shifting his task-oriented focus to the details of the co-ordinates John left them. The conflict between them for S1 comes from the episodic hunts drawing out their different motivators and needs (Dean following Dad’s wishes, Sam seeing the need to do the “right thing”) and the quest (the desire of both of them to find him); reflecting and drawing out the conflict through random, innocent families in the path of evil and their own family issues.

As far as victim families go, you can’t get a much more obvious parallel than this one. There’s a family member missing and in trouble (o rly?), but it’s a younger brother who the older sibling (practically a female version of Dean in attitude and tastes) looks after and feels responsible for (o rly?), and now the two remaining siblings are worried about him and decide to find him themselves. (O RLY.) But that parallel is pretty useful for everyone involved (including us the audience), story-wise, in getting a handle on the boys. Show doesn’t believe in subtlety for subtlety’s sake, and I’m not sure I do, either; Show is rock’n’roll, not chamber music. But then, as Metallica and the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra demonstrated, rock can be surprisingly orchestral and powerful and layered. If anvils are doing their job, I’m fine with them.

So, this missing brother (Tommy). Dean’s spider sense is all up and tingling as they talk to the park ranger dude, and Sam’s almost definitely is too, but he doesn’t care at this point. It’s not the objective (Find Dad), and is therefore a waste of time. His annoyance with Dean (who was only just pointing him toward finding Dad) is expressed in accusing him of “cruising for a hook up” – which tells us something about his irritation with Dean’s usual horndog ways. It is not because he actually thinks Dean would rather hook up with some random girl he hasn’t even seen yet; it’s because Sam takes it for granted that Dean’s flaunted faults are an acceptable target for him to vent on. (After all, Dean considers Sam’s “girlishness” an acceptable button to push. Ah, family.)

Sam: Let’s just go find Dad. I mean, why even talk to this girl?
Dean: I don’t know, maybe we should know what we’re walking into before we walk into it. *bzuh?*
Sam: What?!
Dean: Well, since when are you all shoot first ask questions later anyway?
Sam: Since now.
Dean: Oh really?

Dean is not very concerned with the hints of Sam’s recklessness at this point; in fact, he’s pleased at how much Sam wants to find Dad, because right or wrong he interprets that as family. Reconciliation. Which is why Sam’s expression of desire for regaining his independence once this is finished (ah, optimism) shakes Dean up so much (Shadow). He really does nurse the irrational hope that they can all be together, because that’s what family means to him.

While they gather information from the ranger and from the Collinses, Sam shows himself adept at knowing how to pass as “normal”, coming up with plausible stories, while Dean reads and uses the expectations being projected on them. Dean identifies with Haley right off the bat (even before meeting her, he trusted her instincts): she’s intuitively worried about her brother, she doesn’t accept the official explanation, she’s suspicious of them as authority figures, but she likes the car, she’s putting out dinner for her younger brother who’s resentfully annoyed with the stupid questions SamnDean are asking, and she’s not going to just sit around when she knows her family is in trouble.

Meanwhile, Sam gets on with this hunt, since it looks like they’re doing this whether he likes it or not. (I once read an argument about which brother was “in charge”, which I think suffered from people confusing “in charge” with “does own thing”, but I personally can’t see how anyone can read the power dynamics of the brothers and think that Sam decides what they do or how. It’s always about him, and he comes up with a lot of stuff, but Dean’s word goes – which is why Sam has to leave, or manipulate Dean, or act before Dean’s made up his mind, in order to do something Dean is opposing. When they’re together, Dean has the final word.) So Sam puts on his detective hat and spots the clue in the video of Tommy, and from there researches the area, the past patterns of disappearances, and uncovers one survivor of a previous attack.

*squints* ... Is that dude behind them a hunter, too?

All of which is discussed quite comfortably in a bar, again laying out the typical haunts of the Winchesters’ ambulatory lives. And as in the Pilot, Dean’s instincts for something being off or weird are shown to be spot on. Sam, of course, has the same instincts – in fact, his are possibly even sharper, what with his psychic visions and all – but where Dean embraced and honed them, Sam has fought and denied and sought to blunt them. I’d argue that if he really didn’t agree with Dean’s sense there was “something weird”, he wouldn’t have gone along with him; he’d have gone off to find John alone.

So they go to interview the witness, a hollow wreck even after all these years, showing the longevity of evil’s impact on the “survivors”. Practically all of their human contact is with people who’ve had evil’s destruction enter their lives (showing the many different ways people respond to that). The boys are very good at sniffing out and getting at the relevant information; they know the signs of when someone’s hiding what they think people won’t believe, and when they’re truly clueless.

(I kind of like this guy, though. He’s marinated in loss and survivor's guilt for most of his life, but there’s a dignity to him, like an integrity in that he never let go of the certainty of what happened that night, even when no one would believe him. That’s a very lonely life. I kind of hope there was some comfort or closure from having the boys listen and accept his story.)

Another cranky conversation, over the weapons trunk: Sam does not want the baggage of civilians on this hunt; he just wants to do this and Find Dad, dammit, but Dean knows better than to think they can make “that Haley girl” sit this one out, with her brother missing and all. There’s another *bzuh?* face from Dean, and another quietly belligerent “What?” from Sam, but this time Dean only replies with a very pregnant “Nothing,” and angrily throws their duffel o’weaponry at him. All of a sudden Sam’s drive to find Dad isn’t as benign as Dean hoped; if it’s causing Sam to actively disregard the danger people are in, there’s something seriously wrong or Sam is being seriously selfish. But once again, Dean doesn’t directly confront it.

When they rock up to the trail the next morning, what strikes everyone (including us) is how out of place they look. Haley voices it but we’re all thinking it, and it highlights how much they rely on the personas or roles they adopt being very short-term only. They rely on speed in their investigations, so their aliases are flimsy and disposable. They rarely hold up past the second meeting with a civilian, but they’re usually in and out of a situation so fast that this is the most efficient approach.

So Roy, with his concern for safety and his expertise in back-country tracking, seems very much more the authority to turn to in finding Tommy, but even with their jeans and biker boots and duffel and M’n’Ms, this is still the Winchesters’ playground. Show is repeating its point that no matter how much conventional expertise an authority figure has – in this case, in hunting, just to make it sooperdooper clear – all bets are off when it comes to dealing with the supernatural. Apart from the bet that they will butt heads with the Winchesters over handling the situation, even when their objectives align rather than clash. That’s a given. Dean and Roy are all but beating their chests at one another until Roy gets himself all killed; and when he gets into it, Sam's ready to deck the guy. And this is all nicely couched in an episode where the MotW is a human hunter taken to its horrendous “damn-near perfect” extreme. (But which hunters walk away at the end? I guess that makes them the bestest.)

(Brief interlude where the less important victim is eaten. Ew. Thanks for that.)

Dean and Roy are still pushing at one another (“Yogi or Bambi ever hunt you back?” *beartrap* “You should watch where you’re stepping, Ranger.”), prompting Haley to voice her serious doubts about their presence with the hunting party. Before replying, Dean glances at Sam, who nods, giving assent to sharing what Dean deems necessary. (That isn’t a power thing, though; Dean wasn’t looking for Sam’s permission. Breaking cover is just something they rarely do without the other’s consent. Later, when Sam almost starts yelling at Roy about wendigos, Dean intervenes to cool down the situation, but he’s also surprised and a little pissed at the indiscretion of it.)

And so we get this:
Haley: Why didn’t you just tell me that from the start?
Dean: I’m telling you now. Besides, it’s probably the most honest I’ve ever been with a woman.... Ever.

Well, hang on, now. I’m pretty sure telling Cassie The Secret counts as being more honest than this. Do we start theorizing about racially blind plotting now?

Or perhaps not. Actually, this is a really good mini-example of how Show shifted in its perception of Dean. Right now, he’s Han Solo. He’s got his own Millennium Falcon, he’s got Chewbacca back by his side (okay, yes, S1 “Sam is Luke”, but that’s not Dean’s read of the situation), and he’s not averse to the occasional Leia, provided they don’t last past a night or two. (I apologize for the pun. It shan’t might happen again. Also, Sam’s journey morphed somewhat too, to where he much more resembles Anakin than Luke. It’s still all rather Joseph Campbell-y. But whatevs.)

But as early as Dead in the Water, Writers began to detect more potential for depth in the character than they originally envisioned. Between Skin and Home, their suspicions were shown to have been lowballing the situation, and by Faith and Route 666 they’ve got their pick axes and mining helmets and they’re ready to go. (I have no evidence for this other than the flat contradiction between this statement and his relationship with Cassie, and the fact that this line was, at the time, completely honest and played for laughs. If it was a deliberate lie, it wasn’t funny, and it wasn’t very Dean, either.)

Either way, his adorkable honesty is irresistible, as Haley shows, and he’s somewhat gained her trust. And then returns to his tried-and-true cocky grin, charming her with his “provisions”. (Okay, so this is Dean Winchester and in context of scripted Show this turned out to be a good call, but ladies, if a dude has accompanied you out into the deep wilderness under false pretenses, I don’t care how cute and charming and awkwardly earnest he seems. Sock him one and run. If he’s really a Dean at heart, he’ll forgive you, sometime later when there are other people around. And if he’s not, repeat manoeuvre until no longer necessary.)

Synchronized looking about.

While getting to and evaluating the shredded up campsite, SamnDean’s hunting demonstrates classic horror movie wisdom, which seems weird to the others – and unlike your usual hapless civilian caught in a horror movie situation, SamnDean do everything they can to get everyone to stick to those principles. You shouldn’t go off by yourself; alright everybody stays together; shhsh – something might still be out there. They get lured away by a cry for help, and Sam very quickly figures out what’s happening, but by the time they get back to the camp, all their gear is gone.

Sam has put the last couple of clues together – claws, the creature mimicking a human cry – and pulls Dean aside to point him to the wendigo entry in Dad’s journal. What’s fun in this little exchange is the way their competence is displayed in the different ways they think and evaluate information. They are both extremely well-versed in this stuff, but Dean objects to Sam’s conclusion because he’s “never even heard of one this far west.”

Dean operates by what he’s experienced, and by the experience and information of others who have the ability to correctly interpret them (other hunters, basically). For lack of a better word, his information is gathered, evaluated and processed relationally. He does not do abstract speculation, and he’s not interested in the arcane trivia Sam loves to memorize, until it can be shown to be concretely useful or relevant. This is why the bulk of exposition falls on Sam without making Dean a less dedicated hunter (or an idiot); he just doesn’t waste time or energy on stuff he isn’t reasonably sure is real.

Sam, on the other hand, loves speculating abstractly; it’s much less messy, yields clear outcomes, and allows you to gain command of a situation. He’s comfortable outside the boundaries of the “real”; he’s nearly always running diagnostics in his head. As soon as he has enough information to identify a pattern, ding, there’s the logical solution, and he holds what’s “known” lightly. People can be wrong. Even John – sometimes especially John. But he can also get too far away from reality, even reality as strange as the Winchesters’, particularly when it comes to his fears about himself.

Which is why Sam needs Dean to ground him, and Dean needs Sam to push him past previous experience and what’s “known”. (And why the conclusion of Show’s five-year arc has Sam facing the concrete expression of his fears himself, and Dean stepping forward into the unknown.)

In this case, what’s “known” is explicitly linked with Dad’s journal, and by extension with John’s guidance. For all we know, this may be the first time that Dean has been pushed past the boundaries of the world John delineates; it’s certainly one of the first and a highly significant time, because this is the first step on his path out from under John’s absolute authority. Sam, of course, blew right past this boundary as he has been doing most of his life, except that for the first time he’s succeeded in pulling Dean with him in this small way. But he doesn’t really notice the influence he’s having on Dean (or the ways Dean’s paradigms are shifting) pretty much until Dean stands up to John or tells him off several times in the Dead Man’s BloodSalvation period. (Not counting the time he got between Sam and John fighting; that was clearly a common and unremarkable event.)

Dean accepts that it’s a wendigo, and holds up his handgun saying that it’s useless. I’m not going to assume there’s some transference of his disturbance at not being able to rely on John’s information, but it’s not that much of a stretch, either. Sam, however, is already focussed on the objectives, the priorities of which have just switched: get these people to safety. Even though his focus remains finding John, when confronted with the “clear and present” danger the civilians are in, it’s like flipping a switch on the mission. Until now, both of them have allowed Roy to lead; after all, he is useful for tracking and avoiding beartraps. Now that the nature of the threat is known, Sam immediately takes charge to deal with it and get on with things.

He is also feeling justified in his original insistence that he and Dean shouldn’t have “let” the others come; Sam starts off not just with the notion that he can and should control his own life, but that he can and should be able to control others’, too, when by virtue of his expertise he feels he is the best to do so, and it’s clearly in their best interests. (O hai John! I c u thar!) (While Dean, highly experienced in only being able to control the small things in life – what he eats, who he sleeps with, etc – watches this attempt somewhat dubiously. Are these very complex philosophies and practices of fate vs free will, and control? And do they go through several convolutions? YES. But that can wait for later eps.)

Sam: We have to leave. Now.
Roy: One, you’re talking nonsense, two, you’re in no position to give anybody orders!
Dean: Relax.
Sam: We never should have let you come out here in the first place, alright? Trying to protect you.
Roy: You protect me? I was hunting these woods while your mommy was still kissing you goodnight! [WRITERS, YOU BASTARDS.]
Sam: Yeah? It’s a damn-near perfect hunter. It’s smarter than you. And it’s going to hunt you down and eat you alive unless we get your stupid, sorry ass out of here.
Roy: Hahaha! You know you’re crazy, right?
Sam: Yeah? You ever hunt a w–

And who are the two who step in to break up the fight? Dean and Haley. (O rly.) Although Dean knows Sam’s assessment is right, the only time he gets involved is when it gets heated, and then only to cool things down. As for Sam, I’m not going to assume there’s some transference of frustration at an obdurate authority figure dismissing his opinion, but it’s not much of a stretch at all. Especially given how quickly he escalates to calling Roy a “stupid, sorry ass”, which Roy hasn’t really done much to deserve – apart from oppose Sam’s order to leave.

Dean and Haley lay out the practicals of the situation. Haley repeats Dean’s assurance to her that her brother may still be alive; therefore, she’s not going anywhere. Dean tells them they have to protect themselves overnight, and Haley demonstrates her trust in him by immediately asking how.

Once the boys have taken care of campsite protection, by Anasazi symbols (to Roy’s pronounced skepticism, a confrontation which Dean diverts with flippancy), its time for another chat. Dean can’t let the issue go any longer; it’s time to confront it, whether he wants to or not, because Sam is on the brink of picking fights with civilians. He does it fairly gently, though, because in his long and faithful role of caretaker he has the legitimate authority to ask such questions. He chooses the pertinent one: "You wanna tell me what’s going on in that freaky head of yours?" (And yes, I believe that phrasing is deliberate on the part of Writers; they seem to love layering in allusions on the dialogue level that the characters are unaware of.)

Sam offers a half-hearted attempt to maintain the “I’m fine” façade, but Dean’s not having it and Sam knew he wouldn’t. Dean’s observation that Sam is like a powderkeg, and it’s not like him, is an interesting one; clearly, Dean’s experience of Sam’s anger issues has seen them entirely directed at John. It’s when Sam starts blowing up at others that there’s something wrong. Also, Dean’s observation that he’s supposed to be the belligerent one signals the start of the brothers’ game of role/trait/function musical chairs.

Sam’s been expecting this confrontation, but doesn’t dispute Dean’s right to do so. He pauses, and then begins with the mission-relevant issues he’s struggling with. John’s not here, has probably never been here, and therefore they should get the innocents currently in their care (and complicating their mission) out of immediate danger and return to their simple objective: Find Dad. The first time he shows his frustration is the only point where he feels opposed to Dean (showing that he doesn’t feel threatened or defensive at Dean’s approach to this confrontation, suggesting that he knows Dean is fundamentally on his side, and also that Dean has long experience informing his light touch), on the question, “Why are we still even here?”

It’s Dean’s turn to take a moment, assessing how to deal with this conflict of priorities, which will be an ongoing thing if he can’t straighten it out.

(Sidenote: the blocking of this is telling, too. He started out sitting by Sam’s side, but a little behind – at his back – reinforcing his loyalty, support and commitment even as he pulls Sam up. Now, he repositions himself across from Sam, face-to-face but a little lower than his eye-line, unthreatening. This positional stuff, which Dean mostly seems to do on an instinctive level, now says that he is gently but firmly standing in Sam’s way; Sam’s gone his direction, but now the direction is going to be challenged and, unless Dean stands aside – which he won’t – will inevitably have to change. It is loving, it is serving, as evidenced Dean sitting lower, but it is unyielding, not submissive.)


Dean holds out the journal and says, “This is why.”

(Another sidenote: Dad’s journal is, in fact, Dad’s figurative presence throughout S1, and to a lessening extent through S2 and S3. (In S4 and S5, young!John and Adam take on that role, signalling the shift in John’s significance in the story, from the Mission to Family.) So when Dean holds it out and says this is why, he is not just talking about the journal. I mean, I assume that’s obvious, but it’s worth stating. In one sense, he is holding up the ideal of John and his mission – his “single most valuable possession” – against the mission of finding John physically. (And it is very much an ideal. “Everything he knows about every evil thing is in here.” Oh, Dean. Not quite.) In a related sense, he’s holding up his loyalty to his father’s orders and thereby his loyalty to Family, even to Sammy, even above Sam’s own desires. It also quietly sets up the question of John’s value of the mission and his value of his family, which diverged somewhere along the way and now conflict at times, to be resolved in the season finales and next season’s opener.)

In the most straightforward sense, though, Dean is using it to represent The Fight. “And he’s passed it on to us.” (And how.) (Sam’s not impressed.) “I think he wants us to pick up where he left off.... You know, saving people, hunting things. The family business!” Which of course defines Dean’s priorities, in descending order: obeying Dad and following in his footsteps, the first order of business of which is looking after Sam; saving people; hunting things. Those are the priorities he desperately wants Sam to share, to affirm, to be loyal to, because that is how he understands Sam to be demonstrating loyalty to Dean. But he knows Sam, and he doesn’t demand it or expect it.

Sam, of course, is frustrated, but he reigns himself in from taking it out on Dean, and instead objects on rational grounds; why wouldn’t John just tell them what’s going on? Sam is used to knowing what’s going on, to the extent that Dean – who he trusts as a source of explanation – can tell him. (Even when Dean’s information is lacking, his presence forms the very foundation of Sam’s conviction that everything will be okay.) Sam is used to never being abandoned by the person he grew up counting on to define his world. Sam is used to an authority figure who, however imperfect in other ways, faithfully cares, shields and guides, who he can rely on. (Dean, to put it mildly, is not. Even if the style of John’s disappearance is unprecedented, the act of it is not, and Dean has dealt with/buried his emotional response to that long ago.) Obviously this is not the first time Sam has experienced John’s disappearances either, and there’s residual frustration coming through from that, but this is probably one of the first times that he directly needs something from John that Dean can’t supply or approximate in his stead; the first time that he experiences John as Dean does. He doesn’t realise that for a long time, however, and right now he’s not happy about it.

(From these humble beginnings, Sam very slowly comes to experience and understand Dean’s perspective, and eventually Dean too comes to experience and understand Sam’s. And all these issues don’t get entirely resolved until No Return.)

Dean can’t offer anything to Sam’s questions; his “I don’t know” is an old and unsatisfying conclusion from his own dealing with the issue. He offers what is incentive enough, to him: “But the way I see it, Dad’s given us a job to do, and I intend to do it.”

But Sam has a counter-offer: “Dean. No. I gotta find Dad. I gotta find Jessica’s killer.... It’s the only thing I can think about.”

He’s almost in tears at this point (and he’s not embarrassed by it; he is fine with being emotionally vulnerable with Dean – but hates being intellectually vulnerable, with Dean being the exact opposite), but that’s understandable, considering everything he’s gone through. Also considering he’s not telling the truth, because clearly, from his dream at the beginning of the ep and from what we later find out, between the visions, nightmares, guilt, regret, remorse, confusion, anger, grief, etc, there’s a hell of a lot more going on in that freaky head of his.

Dean responds with a promise he has no way of knowing he can keep, but all previous evidence shows that when a member of his family needs something he can provide, he will find a way to accomplish it. In any case, it’s not primarily a promise of fact, it’s an emotional promise. It’s an it’s okay, Sam.

And Sam wants that; it’s all over his face. He does receive some solace from it, at a purely emotional level – after all, this is Dean. But intellectually, it’s not enough, which is why Dean goes on to shore up that side too, counselling patience, that this might take a while. “And all that anger ... you can’t keep it burning over the long haul. It’s going to kill you.” Ah. Foreshadowing. Thank you, Writers.

Sam: How do you do it? How does Dad do it?
Dean: Well, for one, them. I mean, I figure our family’s so screwed to hell, maybe we can help some others. Makes things a little bit more bearable.... And I’ll tell you what else helps. Killing as many evil sons of bitches as I possibly can.

In Sam’s question of how John and Dean cope with it all, he is accepting, at least partially, Dean’s counsel. He instinctively seeks guidance from Dean in living this life, because Dean’s always his first stop, but then he asks about John, too. In some ways, he’s already realised that he’s got more in common with John than he ever expected. And that in some ways, Dean’s approach to the hunting life is nothing that appeals to or would suit Sam. Dean himself can only give his own answer; I doubt, certainly at this point, if he’d know how to answer for John. Which can satisfy Sam enough, for a time, to direct his efforts toward saving people, hunting things; if he’s back in this life, then he’s falling back on his old, familiar goal (objective) to be just like Dean to guide him. But it doesn’t take long to experience the impossibility of that, for that identity to no longer satisfy; it holds only until Scarecrow. He’s not broken the same way Dean is (accepting the loss and embracing the brokenness of their family to where he doesn’t know how to seek wholeness), so Dean’s solution can’t truly work for him. He needs the solution of the man who’s broken the same way he is (raging against the loss and seeking wholeness through revenge, which is an objective affirmation of the value of everything that was taken or broken).

Well, now that that’s all sorted out, it’s time to thin the herd a little. Bye, Roy; sorry about that. I bet you were a good hunter, but those instincts of yours were for the wrong kind of hunt and that got you killed. Thanks for playing.

Also, the one line given the Collinses in this scene: Haley, frightened but bodily shielding Ben and holding his hand, says, “You’ll be alright. I promise.” And in spite of her having really nothing to back that up, not only Ben but Tommy as well are alive and well at the end. Show honours or rewards (sooner or later) these improbable promises made with the guarantee of nothing but love and determination, because in Show’s cosmos, those two things are highly valuable currency. Which bodes well for Dean's promise that they'll Find Dad and that everything, eventually, will be okay.

Identity: Broody McBroodersen.

The next morning, Sam broods over Dad’s journal and Dean’s words for a while, and decides that killing evil sons of bitches sounds rather appealing; in the wake of the total destruction of the identity he was building for himself at Stanford, this family and personal identity of hunter and saviour is one he can endorse (for a time), that makes sense of his world and of him (for a time), that gives him an outlet for his anger (for a time). This opens Sam’s personal five-season quest (transformation arc) of Who The Hell Am I (Also, Am I Evil)? We’ll be keeping you updated as developments arise. And now, back to Eric and Sera in the studio.

Dean is doing ... I don’t know, hunter stuff with sticks and examining the wendigo’s claw marks.
Haley: How do you know about this stuff?
Dean: It kinda runs in the family.
... Uh huh.

Sam and Dean lay out the hunt and the relative dangers, thus introducing the theme of a corrupted human, someone becoming inhuman by series of choices and actions, generally against other humans. (In this case, only killable by fire, one of the key purifying substances in Show.) This will form the core of Show’s philosophy of good and evil, which is essentially Humanist. (The accidental introduction of angels and God to the plot notwithstanding.)

So our two hunters at pitted against the nearly perfect hunter, and with some twists and turns (and Roy’s bloody body dropping on them), and some running around and splitting up when Sam goes back to help Ben up when he falls, Dean and Haley are taken and it's up to the youngest siblings to step up and save the day, thus helping to fulfill the promises made to them. They follow the trail of Dean’s M’n’Ms (a-hah, you thought it was a one-off joke, didn’t you?) to the old abandoned mine, and use their God-given talents as younger siblings (sneakiness, getting into dangerous situations, breaking things) to literally fall into the room their hapless older siblings are being “stored” to rescue them, and Tommy, too. Family ftw! \o/

(I thought about it, and I am not going to keep a tally of how often these guys get strung up, or knocked out, or almost eaten. That’s just morbid. Or ... disturbing. Anyhow.)

Dean finds two flare guns in the guys’ packs, to his and Sam’s wolfish delight, and we’re back to fighting supernatural things with mundane guns. Hooray! But they’re severely handicapped, especially with the state Tommy’s in (being basically carried by his brother and sister), and there’s no way they’ll get out alive if they don’t do something.

All it takes for SamnDean to formulate and implement a plan is:
Dean: You thinking what I’m thinking?
Sam: Yeah, I think so.
(I wonder if they watched Pinky and the Brain growing up?)

Dean dials his mouthiness up to 11 and runs off to lure the wendigo away – typical reckless, self-sacrificing gambit – while Sam and the rest make a break for it ... but are in reality the bait in Dean’s ambush. Dean’s quick glance at the Collinses, before covertly proposing the plan and getting Sam’s agreement, makes me pretty sure that they both expected the wendigo to go for the easy prey. Reckless, still, certainly, but calculated, and showing the brothers’ knowledge of and confident dependence on the other’s competence.

Psst, Dean – mine shaft ≠ wendigo.

Still, when Sam realises he might be able to ambush the wendigo himself, he takes that chance, because that’s what Dean would do and, by gum, that’s the identity he’s taking on. But he lacks Dean’s experience (he has been away at college, and he wouldn’t have taken point on hunts before that, either) and it doesn’t work (Sam? Are you paying attention?), wasting his shot and leaving their group vulnerable. They run for it before turning into a dead end, and it’s Sam’s turn to shield all three of them; he is never half-hearted in embracing an identity, although that’s something he’d do at any stage of his journey. Handily, the wendigo is lured in after them, trapping it for Dean to show up behind it with his one shot and decently close range and great aim. (Practice a lot with flare guns, does he? Well, whatever. *handwaves* We all know Dean doesn’t choke when they’re down to their last shot.)

So all that’s left is for the earnest younger siblings to tell bald-faced lies to the authorities about what happened out there, and for the older ones to bond over their successful fulfilling of their responsibilities to protect their brothers, in which Dean cheapens the moment and Haley sweetens it again.

And then our wrap-up moment on the Impala’s hood. Dean’s checking that the intellectual reassurance – we are going to Find Dad, we haven’t abandoned the objective – has stuck, and Sam agrees. Watching the family they just saved ride off together in the ambulance, he accepts, for now, that the job has priority over the quest: “Yeah. I know.... But in the meantime ... I’m driving.” Having transitioned from what he was at the beginning of the episode – entirely vengeance focussed, and indifferent to the opportunity to drive the Impala, passively letting Dean drive that side of things – to being in this life, killing evil sons of bitches, helping other families, following in Dean’s footsteps, then hell yes he wants to drive her. (Who wouldn’t?) Where Dean drove them into this episode, Sam drives them out. He slides into the driver’s seat and their (very) slow path toward equality of control and stewardship of the family and The Fight begins, driving off into a blaze of rock music.

A significant perk of the job.

... Ah. So they probably are all going to be this long, then. :/

Lensflare!Dean = 0/1
Bitchface!Sam = 0/1
Unison!dialogue = 0/1
Crying!Dean = 0
Crying!Sam = 0/1

It was a slow day, boys.


( 8 speakses — have a speak )
Sep. 18th, 2010 10:40 pm (UTC)
"Sam is used to an authority figure who, however imperfect in other ways, faithfully cares, shields and guides, who he can rely on."

I maintain that Dean's raising of Sam with the attributes you cite gave Sam the strength to strike out on his own for Stanford. Dean ended up with the same result as most 'successful' parents--a kid who can go out in the world on his own. The 'reward' for a job well done is to be left. Some parents cope better with that than others.

The complete confidence in each other's competency hooked me on the boys from the beginning. On the job they are equals and treat each other as such. I absolutely loved that facet of their relationship.

Of course now there are five years of story to hook back into, so rewatching these episodes, the elements are much clearer as to how various actions and remarks can be interpreted. I love what you're doing! Thank you for adding this depth to my enjoyment of show!
Sep. 19th, 2010 04:06 am (UTC)
gave Sam the strength to strike out on his own for Stanford.

Oh, absolutely. There's no doubt that in spite of all the obstacles, Dean raised Sam well. Sam's reactions to people, relationships, society, authority, trauma and loss, ambition, and so on, tend to be those of a healthy, well-adjusted adult.

The 'reward' for a job well done is to be left. Some parents cope better with that than others.

Very true, and Sam being raised well inevitably brings that "reward". The problem for Dean, of course, being that he's not a parent. He has no perspective from which to interpret the leaving in a healthy way, because he is only four years older than Sam, working everything out as he goes, and lacks the previous evolution of the cycle (growing up and leaving himself) to inform this evolution of the cycle. To his credit, he does partially figure it out when Sam leaves, and copes well enough to call him to say goodbye properly, in Scarecrow. (Not that that's the end of it, but I can't brain right now to think of other examples.)

five years of story to hook back into

Yes. I love reading others' reviews as each ep airs, but since that's already being covered, I wanted my speculation to be a little less OMG WHAT'S GONNA HAPPEN NOW and a little more I C WAT U DID THAR. I love seeing how all kinds of key elements were in place almost from the beginning, and then all the things that grew out of them. It's such a strong yet flexible structure to build a story on.

I love what you're doing! Thank you for adding this depth to my enjoyment of show!

Thank you! That's pretty much exactly what I was hoping this would give people. :)
Sep. 19th, 2010 01:54 pm (UTC)
I really enjoyed reading this - and I appreciate how long it must take to write and put together such posts!

And yay for snark and capital abuse:

This opens Sam’s personal five-season quest (transformation arc) of Who The Hell Am I (Also, Am I Evil)?
Sep. 19th, 2010 06:33 pm (UTC)
Thanks! It is a fair amount of work, but there's a lot of play about it, too. I'm really glad you guys can enjoy it, too. Hooray for fandom and geekiness, baby! ;)

And, yes, snark, capitals, capslock, lolspeak, italics ... I abuse a lot of things.... :D
Sep. 20th, 2010 10:40 pm (UTC)
Yay, more meta! \0/

The "most honest I've ever been with a woman" line--argh, why did I never notice how flatly that contradicts the story with Cassie? I agree that it's not a very Dean line--it's such an obvious shorthand for the uncomplicated character type that he's supposed to be, at this point. I can rationalize a lot of how Dean comes across in the earliest episodes as a persona that he's putting on for Sam, this brash older brother who can do no wrong. (I think that's probably how he's always acted with Sam, which is why Sam is so surprised when Dean starts revealing chinks in the armor.) But that doesn't help much with this particular line. Maybe he doesn't include Cassie with all the other women in his life, because she was more important? Or something. Or he's temporarily blocked her from his memory because their relationship was so painful. /desperate fanwank.

"[Sam] is fine with being emotionally vulnerable with Dean – but hates being intellectually vulnerable, with Dean being the exact opposite"--ooh, this is such a neat little insight.

It's interesting that you see Sam equating embracing the hunting identity with trying to be like Dean this early on. It's such a recurring theme in the show. There's probably enough material for a really long meta on it--not all the role reversals, but just the times that Sam tries to emulate Dean, in typical little-brother fashion, and how he gets it wrong, and what that says about his perceptions of Dean...hmm. Must ponder more.

Thanks for this! May I friend you so I don't miss any of these?
Sep. 21st, 2010 04:10 am (UTC)
such an obvious shorthand for the uncomplicated character type that he's supposed to be, at this point.... a persona that he's putting on for Sam, this brash older brother who can do no wrong.

Nice way to put it! That's exactly what it was. And it is a persona, but Dean's persona is ... complicated. It's for Sam, it's for Dad, it's for himself, and for whoever else is wandering across his field of vision. What complicates it is it's an honest persona. He's not pretending to be other than he is, he's ... limiting what is seen. Because he really is brash, and when you evaluate his success rate, he rarely fails to achieve what he's aiming for. So his persona is very much who he is – just not ALL he is. And he lets people draw their own conclusions. (Not that I think you were arguing anything else; just going on a little muse there. :))

But that doesn't help much with this particular line.

True, and I know not everyone watches it this way, but I like the organicness of Show; I like the lumps and bumps and inconsistencies that are marks of the journey the story itself went through. I have a tendency to distrust things that have everything worked out at the beginning, or are too rigid; they often feel smug, to me. I'm sure I'll brain more about a lot of this stuff as I go, but for the most part, I like the broad, sloppy strokes Show paints with – there's a looseness there that really suits the story (very rock'n'roll) and allows nuance and complexity to develop below the surface naturally. /more rambling

Sam equating embracing the hunting identity with trying to be like Dean this early on.

I feel like it's a bit of a "reset" situation – he's going back to the habits of the last real incarnation of hunter life that he's known (before it was subsumed by rebellion against John), which is studying/imitating Dean. He finds that to be inadequate fairly quickly, but it's that fallback habit that he employs when he's lost his own way. After all, it's the source of the most consistent guidance he's had all his life; that's a hard habit to break. And Dean projects (not dishonestly, just incompletely) such assurance that, logically, if he can be like Dean, he'll have that assurance, too.

Please do friend! I love these back-and-forth conversations about Show, and each in-depth comment and thread helps develop insights for future reviews. (I tend to friend back when people leave such thoughtful comments – may I?)
Sep. 21st, 2010 07:10 pm (UTC)
“And all that anger ... you can’t keep it burning over the long haul. It’s going to kill you.” Ah. Foreshadowing. Thank you, Writers.

All the foreshadowing is part of what makes this show so much fun to rewatch.

I'd forgotten that line until 5.11. It's fun to compare and contrast. Here, Sam's anger is destructive, and Dean is proposing a healthier alternative; Saving People. Seems perfectly reasonable. Who doesn't agree with Dean here? (It's almost selflessness vs selfishness) In 5.11 we see that Saving People (being the Hero) is as destructive to Dean as Sam's anger is to Sam. Sneaky writers.

Your Metas = Me \o/
Sep. 22nd, 2010 12:53 am (UTC)
All the foreshadowing is part of what makes this show so much fun to rewatch.

Oh, totally. I just like to snark sometimes :)

In 5.11 we see that Saving People (being the Hero) is as destructive to Dean as Sam's anger is to Sam.

Very good point. I hadn't made that connection, but Show does take pains to point out that any cause, no matter how worthy (even saving family or the angels' aim of achieving paradise) can be perverted into something destructive and tyrannical if you can't keep it in perspective, or recognise that your methods are becoming incompatible with the initial ideal. One of the most pervasive themes of Show is the ways (mostly bad) people deal with loss. The fear of losing your goal or self-appointed mission/identity (ie, being a hero) can completely enslave you.

Your comments = Me :):):)
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