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random DEEEEEEAN meta

Good grief, I may actually get back in the habit of my (slackly) self-imposed Random Fridays. Two in a row! Although probably not.

So last Friday I was talking about music and fandom, fanvids specifically. And that reminded me of a meta I wrote about Dean, back at the very beginning of season 7, mostly at bitterlimetwist's kind enabling encouragement, using the lens of a particular song which is SO DEAN to me that I clearly require some kind of seriously tl;dr essay to explain all the whys and wherefores. And, given the kind of season the boy has had, it turned out to be fairly helpful for examining the set-up and themes of his character arc contained therein (which I will probably talk about later, once I've had a chance to rewatch it). Also, he could do with the love.

(And just so's you know, there is a song that is as much Sam to me as this is Dean. I don't want y'all to think I love Dean more that Sam; my only claim is that I think I get Dean better than I get Sam. So Dean-meta it is.)

Hooray! says Dean

The song in question is New Day by Karnivool:

I should caveat that this is completely my interpretation of the song through the lens of Dean; I haven’t read anything about the song meaning itself, so this is purely what I hear in it, what I see of Dean in it. So this exercise is very much the song interpreting Dean and Dean interpreting the song – the perspective I’m digging at is completely and subjectively his, not objectively true but an attempt at his inner monologue. (So I may be way off the actual intended meaning of the song itself. In fact, I’m sure I’ll be reading things into it that weren’t originally there. But surely that is a fangirl’s prerogative.)

Tonally, it ranges all over Dean’s emotional journey: melancholy yet badass yet lonely yet confident yet desperate yet determined yet conflicted yet frustrated yet angry yet resigned yet frantic ... yet etc. It’s almost delicate in places, and then so driven, veering this close to out-of-control but always just inside it; then it draws right into itself, lost and putting you at a distance, then comes all-out fighting again. And it’s so very epic, but in a gritty way, without getting melodramatic about it. (There isn’t a hint of anything close to chick-flick in this.) The percussion really helps, too; it’s sharp but stays pretty subtle most of the time, but it just keeps pushing the song through, motoring along and then slowing into this step. by. step. slog through the mire before getting back on track, picking up speed on the highway again.

There’s also something about the quality of the music that really evokes the guitar score in the episodes. I mean, I usually think of Croatoan when I think of Show’s score, because that’s where it first really jumped out at me. I haven’t listened to it lately but I’m pretty sure that there isn’t that much melodic crossover – but it still sounds like it, the soul of it, somehow. I kind of wish they’d put out the purely instrumental versions of their songs because I feel like this would be so perfectly Dean even without the lyrics, which are slightly oblique and quite multi-layered – but then that’s also very Dean: giving you tangental clues to his inner narrative but very rarely straight-up telling the story (or part of it) unless forced.

Lyrically, then, there aren’t overt lines to orient by, so I wasn't sure how to go about dissecting it. What stands out the most is that haunting refrain of It’s a new day ... why did they follow me home? It’s a new day ... it’s a new day ... it’s a new day! because I think that’s at the core of what makes this song “Dean” to me. There’s a progress-mixed-with-hopelessness to it; that bull-headed, unyielding determination to press on, to conquer and move past the old problems, to win the fight once and for all and leave it behind, step into that new day ... and it never quite takes. No matter what he does, how much he overcomes, he can’t shake the nature of his world, the reality of his life. It dogs his every step, infecting every solution or resolution he manages to find, aiming straight for his heart, his family (follow me home) every time.

He finds his father ... and John dies and leaves a heavier burden on him than before, not just the immediate one with Sammy but the dawning realisation that John went to Hell for him. – He gets Sam back from the dead, sees his father free, and kills the YED ... and that year just. keeps. counting. down. – He gets out of Hell ... and Sam is addicted to demon blood and being manipulated by Ruby, not to mention the steady errosion of self that was begun when he cracked and started torturing souls in Hell. – Sam’s free of Ruby’s clutches and realises how wrong he’s been ... and Dean continues losing himself while trying to fight off the hopelessness of both his and his brother’s pending “Yes” and that pesky little apocalypse thing. – He loses his brother but they’ve slammed the lid on the end of the world and he finds some kind of normal with a woman and kid who love him ... and gets dragged right back into hunting, along with a Sam that’s not really Sam, and on and bloody ON. And those are just the big, season-spanning ones. His solution? Cut off any connection with that normal and accept that this will always be him, always be his life. (Which is, hopefully, a big part of what his arc will address.)

It’s a new day ... why did they follow me home?

For the rest of the lyrics, I transcribed them and then double-checked them against online lyrics sites, but there are a few lines I swear they all get wrong. And a few that seem to be confusing. So I hunted up a few live clips on YouTube, to see if the words in question are pronounced more clearly, and between that and the plain sense of the line, I’m 99.9% sure these are the correct lyrics. (Time annotations for the sake of usefulness.)

How did they find me   How did they know   This misconception of fate   I’m about to let go
Awake in a new light   I’m alone in this room   Heavy at heart   It may be a lie   You will not see me

It’s a new day   Why did they follow me home   It’s a new day
One more step   It’s here waiting for you   Now go slow   Take your time
Leave no mark   You lost your way   I hope you’re watching me

One more step   It’s here waiting for you   Now go slow   Take your time
Subtle breakdown   From the one so free   You lost your way   No one held you back from it

How do you all speak   With a lying tongue   How do we all sleep   With a dying sun
Sit down   Lighten your load   This storm is coming   You should stay home   But I fear won’t
Hey let’s get lost in a crowd while   Searching for something worth holding
Hey let’s get lost in a crowd   I’ll show you so much more
Much more   So much more   So much more

Are we waiting   For a saviour   Someone to heal this   Or erase us
How did they find me   How did they know   This misconception of fate   I’m about to let go
Awake in a new light   I’m alone in this room   I’m heavy at heart   It may be a lie   You will not see me

It’s a new day   It’s a new day   It’s a new day
Are we waiting   For a saviour   I’m so sick of waiting   I’ve been waiting   My whole life
This is a new day   This is a new day   This is a new day

In the interests of scrupulousness, the variants I found were:
Leave no mark: one version had leave no more
Subtle breakdown: a few versions had so breakdown
No one held you back from it: all versions had no one held you back from me
Lighten your load: all versions had lighten your own (what the hell does that even mean?)
But I fear won’t: all versions had but I feel warm; except one which had but I feel lost
Also, no variants had this but it’s possible this misconception of fate is actually this misconception of faith; I hear the harder “t” sound, plus “fate” works just a little better for Dean, so.

But like I said, I’m almost completely sure that those either don’t fit the flow and meaning as well, are not what he’s audibly singing, or are utter rubbish. The only one I am a little unsure of is “held you back from it”. But while “no one held you back from me” might be an intentional contrast of the previous “I hope you’re watching me”, they don’t show a habit of doing that kind of contradiction and it also makes less sense in context. So, “it” it is, as far as I’m concerned, and the rest of the internet can go hang.

So, the rest from the top, I guess:

How did they find me   How did they know

The how did they find me, how did they know is a strong echo and nuance of the why did they follow me home (in one of the live performances, Ian – the singer – did the second iteration at 5:10 as how did they find me, how the FUCK did they know? which really catches that despaired bewilderment of that line). But it also catches a facet of the lines it may be a lie, you will not see me. Because Dean is not only adept in managing how others perceive him – he does not let people see the “real” him, the full him, it’s all half-lies and misdirection, which even those closest to him have to consciously work to counter – he also doesn’t expect to be seen. To be known. It has perpetually confused him when people single him out as significant, for anything other than what he deliberately puts forth for them to notice, the brash, tough, womanizing side. In fact, the persona he puts forward is that much harder to penetrate because it isn’t an act; it’s all him, or parts of him, but filtered through his own self-deprecating world view and presented as the objective reality of him.

Even after two years of being told he’s Heaven’s Vessel to stop/win the apocalypse, he often still instinctively reacts as if there’s nothing special about him; he’s just an unlucky everyman in the grand scheme of things, it’s a river-of-crap life happening to Joe the Plumber. So how did they know? And why did they come after him, how did they find me? It’s almost: what the hell is so important about me that anyone would bother looking? He totally gets that Sammy is intrinsically important, and that John is important – they’re the two most important things in his universe, and therefore the whole universe – but why him? To him it’s not about him, it never has been, and he gets seriously uncomfortable when people suggest otherwise. Sheer weight of repetition has made it less suprising, but no less inexplicable.

This misconception of fate   I’m about to let go

The play with the fate concept (and misconcept) is nice (also echoing the idea that this world will always find him out, pull him back – that’s his fate, not some grandiose Destiny, that no amount of Free Will can overcome), coupled with I’m about to let go, both of which can be read a number of different ways, all applying to turns in his journey.

Awake in a new light   I’m alone in this room   Heavy at heart   It may be a lie   You will not see me

Back to the “new day” theme, he’s awake in a new light – but is it really a new day? There’s always a dawn, but has anything truly changed? It may be a lie – and he’s alone, heavy at heart. You will not see me – even if the person being addressed (which could be a number characters at different times) is present, “in the room” with him, he’s still alone, because they don’t see him. They don’t know him. He doesn’t trust the new day enough to shed his own protective misdirections; it lies, he lies. – In a sense; as mentioned above, it’s not that what he shows is in itself untrue. But, like the new day, what is shown is dangerously incomplete, enough to badly mislead anyone who trusts it to be the whole picture. Because, against all logical expectations after every victory, he is still followed home. It’s not safe to be seen; it’s never safe to be seen, to be known. It not only puts himself in danger, but it endangers those he allows to know him (hello, Lisa and Ben).

One more step   It’s here waiting for you   Now go slow   Take your time
Leave no mark   You lost your way   I hope you’re watching me

This sense of endangering those he lets truly know him is doubly felt because of his own monsterhood lurking over the horizon: one more step, it’s here waiting for you. Which, in the context of the song, could be beckoning him on to the new day, cautioning him to go slow, make sure nothing follows him into the new day this time (take your time, leave no mark). But even so it comes across ominous, given the overarching theme of never truly getting free. It also then raises the question of just what that “one step” he has to take is, what he has to do to get to that new day. What line does that one more step cross? How many times has he taken a step, crossed a line to get to a new day, only to find they’ve found him, they’ve followed him home once more? And what has he become by crossing those lines? By taking that one more step, does he in fact damn himself to become something that can never attain that elusive new day? (It could also suggest – hopefully for his current arc – that the one step he has to take is in a different direction. But this is not intended to be a speculative meta.)

The first-person and second-person here is a little muddy, at least in the song itself. For example, it’s here waiting for you seems to be directed at himself, voicing some kind of promise/danger for him, since (up until now in the song, anyway) he’s the one trying to get there (and/or trying to avoid it). But looked at through Dean, the “you” can also shift through that verse to mean Sammy, I think. Dean not only desperately wants to give Sam that new day, free and clear, far more than he wants it for himself, he also fears Sam losing his way far more than he fears losing his own (although of course both are in play; in fact, for Dean, Sam’s wellbeing too much forms the basis for his own). You lost your way, I hope you’re watching me goes right to Dean always asking Sam to believe in him – most recently, of course, summed up with: “Believe me, okay? You gotta believe me! You gotta make it stone number one, and build on it, you understand?”

But in a lesser way, it can also apply to John, to God, even to Cas a little – those who he wanted to turn to, who he wanted to come through for him – he slowly realises that they’ve lost their way, even as he tries to hope they’re still watching over him. (Which is probably a stretch, but eh. I like the layer, so I’m keeping it.)

The leave no mark just goes on on all kinds of levels. There’s the tracking/hunting aspect, both by them and of them, and the idea that they’ve lost so much of themselves in getting where they are, that it’s impossible to retrace their steps, retrieve what they once were. Which, right or not, I believe Dean believes more of himself than he does of Sam.

One more step   It’s here waiting for you   Now go slow   Take your time
Subtle breakdown   From the one so free   You lost your way   No one held you back from it

Subtle breakdown, from one so free is clearly Dean, right? Especially when we first meet him, he’s the embodiment of freedom, even by his own definition – drives all over the country in a cool car, drinks what he likes and sleeps with women when he wants and eats whatever he feels like and picks the tunes – he flaunts his freedom brazenly. Which is why the breakdown under all that is subtle, particularly to begin with, before we start seeing below that exterior. And it’s worth noting that he feels much more freedom from the moral, ethical, and social restraints that tend to bind Sam.

Except that we start to learn that he envies Sam’s apparent freedom in getting away to Stanford, and that Sam’s true breakdown is also subtly disguised and requires constant vigilance from Dean to get to the bottom of. So it goes both ways, as does you lost your way, no one held you back from it. It’s both a lament for the ways no one could save him and a far deeper lament for the ways he (and others, but mainly him) failed to save Sam: failed to save Sam’s innocence, Sam’s childhood, Sam’s family (ie, keep them all together), Sam’s bid at freedom and normality, Sam’s love-of-his-life (just look at the way Dean reacts to Jess in What Is), and that's just to begin with.

How do you all speak   With a lying tongue   How do we all sleep   With a dying sun

The lying tongue and the dying sun both pretty simply sketch out Dean’s experiences and worldview, in a way. It’s not just that his enemies lie to him – and that does go deep, considering how much damage they’ve been able to do to his self-image, like Alastair – and to his family too, like Ruby’s lies to Sam. But then it's his family too: even those he should be able to trust – John, Mary, Samuel, and most especially Sam – also keep lying to him. (Those who he adopts as family are, interestingly, the ones who don’t seem to lie to him, nor make a habit of selectively omitting things – Bobby, Ellen and Jo. The enemies he has actually worked with are those who are, comparatively anyway, more honest than not with him – Meg and Crowley (and Lenore, kind of). At the very least, they don’t disguise their motives.)

The speak with a lying tongue is an accusation but also an acceptance, in a way, that this is just the world he moves within. Even the soothing fantasy of most people’s perception of reality, of safe normality, and the false promises that offers, the illusory new days that call to him (which he briefly touches through his benders and one night stands) are lies. The way of life all these normal people live, who he runs into every day and tries to protect every week, is a constant sea of lies washing around him, all the time. How do they fool themselves into such ignorance? How can they keep lying to themselves and get away with it, not be punished by it, the way he always is anytime he tries it? Which shifts nicely into the “world’s gonna end bloody” of all these people who all sleep with a dying sun – complacent and happily deluded as wholesale destruction looms over them, destruction that he sees and fights and can never, ever get away from.

Sit down   Lighten your load   This storm is coming   You should stay home   But I fear won’t

I’m not exactly sure who is being addressed, and who is speaking in the song itself here – but interpreted through Dean, this is clearly being begged of Sam. Begging someone who’s already losing (or lost) their way not to run further headlong into the storm – but with the implication that the speaker is assuming that he himself will be out there, weathering the storm that he wants the other to stay out of (even while he fears he won’t). Which lines up perfectly with Dean’s whole “give me some time to work this out, I’m begging you” thing whenever Sam’s freaked and about to run off and do something foolhardy. He’s not so much saying that they can avoid what’s coming down on them, because I think he senses that storm is coming no matter what; what he’s trying to do is figure out how to shield Sam from it, usually trying to use himself to do so.

Hey let’s get lost in a crowd while   Searching for something worth holding

There are two ways for Dean to say this: the first way is kind of sarcastic, his old scorn of follow-the-herd and their “normal”, apple-pie, white-picket fence values (which then becomes ironic, and still unattainable, when he reaches for it with Lisa, having “earned” the illusory normal new day); the second way an echo of remaining unnoticed, unknown, disappearing into the crowd to cover his tracks – both in his everyday hunting mode, and also as he searches for something worth holding. And while he already emphatically believes that Sam is worth holding – and, beyond that, family in general – he’s still searching for an ideal within that. An ideal where family is no longer endangered, and honest with one another, and not trying to run away from one another, and any number of idyllic and unlikely hopes he has for Sam and whoever else he considers family. Peace when they are done, basically.

Hey let’s get lost in a crowd   I’ll show you so much more
Much more   So much more   So much more

I’ll show you so much more is a proud thing, in a way – pride in what he knows, how adept he is, how he can navigate and guide someone else in the true nature of the world, if they will follow and trust his lead (for example, the victims of the week who they manage to save). But in keeping with the danger of himself being known, it is also an inexpressibly dangerous thing; look at the fate of pretty much everyone he showed his world to in any extended or substantial manner, including Sam, which makes it an incredibly bleak statement and puts a consciously ironic expression to the pride. The more he allows people into his world (and thus allows to know him, even partially, because it is impossible to interpret Dean without the lens of his world), the less it seems like he’s able to save them. Again, I’m not saying this is always objectively true, but rather Dean’s perception of it, and the guilt he carries for it. (Small wonder it felt emotionally true, if not logically true, to him to wipe the knowledge of him and his world from Lisa and Ben in order to save them from the fate nearly everyone else has suffered. The darker thing about this is that he might actually not be wrong.)

The repetition of so much more then goes back to the crowd – how much more there is to the world than what the crowd will ever see or understand what is worth holding – and also how bad, how dangerous, how much can pile on once you cross that line, once you can no longer truly get lost in the crowd and its dubious safety.

Are we waiting   For a saviour   Someone to heal this   Or erase us
Are we waiting   For a saviour   I’m so sick of waiting   I’ve been waiting   My whole life

And, of course, Dean’s life has been marked with the thwarted hope for a saviour. He constantly rides into town and saves others – he’s been a hero for his whole life, from the moment he carried baby Sammy to safety – and yet nothing seems to be able to save him, heal the wounds he carries. Or, eventually, save him by erasing – him and Sam. So the question is also scornful – like his attitude to learning Sam prays and believes in angels, even his attitude to knowing that Mary prayed – but the depth of the scorn comes from wounded hope, of desperately wanting saving, of needing it, of always giving it and never getting it (ie, his desperate belief it really is John with a solution in Long Distance Call). John let him down; God let him down; Cas betrayed him; Sam betrayed him; Lisa and Ben and the white picket weren’t enough and never could be. Bobby’s the only one who has consistently been there when Dean needed him, but he won’t let Dean put him in the role of saviour (and rightly so).

(I should also note that being “gripped tight and raised from perdition” – the most dire need of salvation he’s ever had – does not count. Yeah, you heard me. It doesn’t count as salvation to Dean, even though he does feel an obligation, because it wasn’t done for him. It was done with an agenda, for someone else, and was held over his head to coerce his obedience. That may be rescue, but it’s not salvation.)

Keep in mind, too, that this is the heart-cry of the terrified little boy, soured and hardened by the experience of the man, and that sort of thing is incredibly difficult to meet and to heal. Thus, I’m so sick of waiting, I’ve been waiting my whole life.... This is a new day. He’s stopped hoping for a saviour – stopped hoping, finally, I think after Dark Side. That was the last straw. He doesn’t expect to be saved any more; he’s stopped waiting for the new day where he is saved and has peace. He has made his own new day out of the bleakness of not needing to be saved, made a twisted, defiant peace from the cessation of hope.

The question of his character arc now becomes: where can he go from here? Can he become who he needs to be to truly attain his new day, to be at peace with who he is rather than by never hoping for change?

... And then season 7 happened. \o/ To be continued (I hope).

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