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04 May 2007 @ 07:18 pm
2.20 What Is and What Should Never Be: There’s No Place Like Home  

It was just a wish:

Mother, brother, home, and love.

Heroes pay the price.

 

Looking for missing people in Illinois, Sam and Dean realized that they were hunting a djinn. Learning from Sam’s research that djinn lair in large ruins, Dean did a quick solo check of a deserted warehouse, only to be attacked by the djinn – and wake up in what seemed to be the world he would have wished for, a world in which his mother hadn’t died and the Winchesters hadn’t become hunters. Cautiously exploring, Dean soaked up every sweet and normal thing: his mother, alive, well, and loving; Sam safe, innocent, happy, and newly engaged to Jess; photos recording a whole lifetime of family events; a loving and understanding girlfriend. Even where pain intruded, it was bearable – smiling, softball-playing John Winchester had died of a stroke in his sleep, a peaceful and painless end, and while it hurt that Sam was largely a stranger, Dean was convinced that he could make things right. Except – he kept seeing a haunting and out-of-place girl, and when the evening news commemorated the anniversary of the plane crash that he knew he and Sam had prevented in Phantom Traveler, he turned to the Internet to learn that everyone whom the Winchesters had saved was dead, because they hadn’t become hunters. He knew what the father he remembered would have said, weighing his happiness against others’ lives, and so he set out to hunt down the djinn and get it to send him back. Accompanied by an incredulous Sam, he returned to the warehouse and found the girl of his visions strung up, being slowly drained of blood and life by the djinn. Only then did he realize that he must be in the same condition, with everything he was experiencing taking place only in his dreaming mind. Despite the pleas of his own desires, wearing the faces of his brother, his mother, his lover, and Jess, he stabbed himself, betting that dying in the dream would force him to wake in the real world. He found himself hanging in the warehouse with a distraught Sam trying to rouse him and cut him loose. The djinn attacked Sam, Dean broke free and managed to kill it, and the brothers found they were still in time to save the girl. Dean told his brother what he’d experienced and confessed how hard it had been for him to leave, while Sam tried to convince him that the lives they saved made all their bitter sacrifice worthwhile.

 

That bald summary doesn’t come close to telling the tale. This was Supernatural at its very best, exploring the soul of Dean Winchester and the self-sacrifice at the heart of a hero, even the most reluctant one. Raelle Tucker’s script, Eric Kripke’s direction, Jensen Ackles’ and Jared Padalecki’s performances, and the entire production design – from lighting to music to props and beyond – displayed a sensitivity and attention to detail that brought everything to life.

 

In the real world, continuity was wonderfully preserved. Our very first glimpse of the Impala told the story of how seriously the boys were taking their fugitive status in the wake of  Folsom Prison Blues: the familiar Kansas KAZ 2Y5 license plates that we’ve known since the pilot were gone, replaced by an Ohio plate, CNK 80Q3. Care to bet that the license plates will change from time to time throughout the series now, as the boys either steal new ones or get them from salvage to keep themselves and the Impala disguised? (Although I would have thought that the original plates would have returned in the wish world, rather than being replaced with yet another set of new Kansas plates, these bearing RMD 5H2. What’s up with that? Maybe we’ll find out …) A cop car with flashing lights in the parking lot prompted a worried call from Sam to Dean; the threat was palpable.

 

The only detail that threw me early in the episode was the blood already on Dean’s knife as he stalked the djinn in the warehouse. We found at the end of the tale that Dean already knew that a silver knife dipped in lamb’s blood could kill a djinn, but it wasn’t clear to me when he learned it; all I could think at that early-on moment was that the Winchester armory in the Impala’s trunk must have come equipped with a standard anti-djinn kit. But that’s my only nit, and I’ll stop picking it.

 

Back to the relevant discussion about attention to detail. From the moment that Dean lost his hand-to-hand with the djinn, everything changed: the lighting, the colors, the jewelry, the clothes. Dean woke wearing a necklace I’d never seen before (well, except in certain set visit photos!) in place of his normal amulet, and without his customary silver ring. Once he turned on the light, the normality of the room and the depth and brightness of the colors leaped off the screen, a total departure from the usual Supernatural series style. Sam was dressed in upscale preppy, harking back to a more affluent, law-school version of his pilot self, and nothing at all like the more blue-collar look he’s adopted on the road with his brother.

 

Dean feeling his way through figuring out who and what he was supposed to be in this looking-glass world was still undeniably Dean, and a lot of that exploration was downright funny, including his first exchange with Carmen (what are you supposed to do when the gorgeous woman you’re with seems to know everything about you and you don’t recognize her at all? Fake it!). But from the moment he saw the picture that sent him careening to his mother’s house, the tenor changed; he so desperately wanted it to be real. The look on his face, the way he couldn’t take his eyes off her, the way he closed his eyes and drank in her touch, the way he absorbed being home and surrounded by things that spoke of family, even though they were memories he didn’t share: he was home, truly home, for the first time since he was four. Sleeping there, more than half thinking it was all a dream, and then waking to see that Christmas photo right in front of his eyes and the house still surrounding him: I don’t think we’ll ever see Dean that whole and joyous and at peace again, not ever.

 

Watching Dean realize that all wasn’t well in his wished world hurt. People constantly assuming that he was drunk didn’t reflect well on who they expected him to be. But the most constant pain was watching Sam back away every time Dean reached out to touch. (And how hard did Jared have to work on remembering to flinch away?) Throughout the series, we’ve seen Dean constantly touching Sam – teasing, supporting, comforting his brother, and reassuring himself that Sam was present and all right. While Sam didn’t use touch nearly as often, he never ducked away from Dean’s. In this new reality, especially based on a history of negligible contact between the brothers, Dean’s constant reaching out to touch was another strange and unsettling behavior. Given the circumstances, Sam backing away and being uncomfortable with the oddity of the contact made perfect sense, but that it hurt Dean was unmistakable. But seeing Sam happy and fulfilled, and together with Jess and their Mom, spoke to Dean’s heart. Dean convincing himself that he had a second chance, and that he could fix things with Sam and make up for all his perceived failings with everyone else, spoke to the essence of who he is, and of course came just before everything fell apart.

 

Chris Lennertz’s piano and strings underscore throughout the episode broke my heart: sweet as Dean discovered all that he now had, then shading steadily darker, slower, and more plaintive as he realized it wasn’t right and he was honor-bound to give it up. The song choices did it, too: Lynyrd Skynryd’s “Saturday Night Special” (Hand guns are made for killin' / Ain't no good for nothin' else / And if you like to drink your whiskey / You might even shoot yourself. / So why don't we dump 'em, people / To the bottom of the sea / Before some fool come around here / Wanna shoot either you or me) played under hunter Dean driving toward his wish in the beginning, and reappeared after Dean had made his choice to return to his hunter life. Joey Ramone’s cover of “What A Wonderful Life,” playing to accompany Dean’s hilarious delight in incompetently mowing his mother’s lawn, was something I certainly never expected to hear on Supernatural. And those garden gnomes? I laughed out loud, because in any other episode, they’d have been demonic or possessed, I swear.

 

And now to the hard part. Dean at his father’s grave, talking to the man he knew rather than to the one who’d died at peace, railed against the unfairness of it all, but stopped short.  ’Course, I know what you’d say. Well, not the you that played softball, but … “So, go hunt the djinn. It put you here, it could put you back. Your happiness, for all those peoples’ lives? No contest.” Right? But why? Why is it my job to save these people? Why do I have to be some kind of hero? What about us, huh? What, Mom’s not supposed to live her life, Sammy’s not supposed to get married? Why do we have to sacrifice everything, Dad? It’s … yeah.

 

He never bothered to complete the thought and say outright, It’s not fair.  Hearing him come right to the edge, but not say the words, I knew, flat-out knew, that he’d never actually said them to John while his father was alive, either, because he had always known what John would say back:  Life’s not fair, Dean. Deal with it.  He knew the answer, he knew where his duty lay, he knew what he had to do. And he did it.

 

The real killer was that he had to face that choice again, once he and Sam were at the warehouse. It wasn’t until he saw the djinn with the girl that he understood that he, too, had to be strung up somewhere in the warehouse, living a djinn’s lying dream inside his mind, with only flashes of the reality of the warehouse calling him back to his true life. The things telling him to stay in the dream were his own heart’s deepest desires, wearing the faces of his mother, offering warmth, unconditional love, home, and acceptance; Jess, promising that Dean wouldn’t have to worry about Sam any more, and could get to watch him live a full life; Carmen, offering him love, understanding, and a family of his own; and Sam, speaking Dean’s own words – Why is it our job to save everyone? Haven’t we done enough? Dean, killing himself in the dream, was killing his selfishness.

 

His rebirth, typically enough, came with the return of his trademarked defensive humor. He woke to pain, disorientation, and the vision of a distraught Sam trying to rouse him, and how did he mark the occasion? Auntie Em. There’s no place like home.  Oh, yes: Dean was definitely back. Saving his brother and saving the girl were both tangible proof of his worth – but even after, in the motel room with Sam, he still couldn’t see that what he did was worth all that he and his family had given up.

 

Yeah. Lucky me. I’ve got to tell you, though, man – you had Jess. Mom was gonna have grandkids.

Yeah, but, Dean – it wasn’t real.

I know. But I wanted to stay. I wanted to stay so bad. I mean, ever since Dad … all I … all I can think about is how much this job’s cost us. We’ve lost so much. And we’ve sacrificed so much.

But people are alive because of you. It’s worth it, Dean. It is. It’s not fair, and, you know, it hurts like hell, but it’s worth it.

 

And the saddest part of all is the closing look on Dean’s face, the look that still asks …

 

Is it?



 
 
Current Music: "Home" by Daughtry
 
 
 
historylover29historylover29 on March 7th, 2008 04:36 am (UTC)
My favorite SPN episode. I've written two tags on this episode, and I only wish I could capture the beauty of this episode. You nailed the commentary!

Kat
bardicvoice: Dean Burdens by <lj user=Cakehole_Cat>bardicvoice on March 11th, 2008 11:12 pm (UTC)
I can't pick a single favorite episode; this show is just too consistently good and occasionally stellar for me to pick a single brightest light. But this one is way, way up there, and I never tire of it.

I never feel as if I do the great ones the full justice they deserve. They are just so good, I run out of words!