3.10 Dream a Little Dream of Me: I Don’t Deserve to Go to Hell
Deadly dreamer proves
Our ghosts, monsters, and demons
Are inside of us.
Bobby, searching a house, was suddenly attacked by a shrieking female spirit with inhuman speed, striking out with hands curled into claws. The fight was taking place in a dream; in the real world, the motel maid discovered Bobby unconscious in his bed, and when she couldn’t wake him, screamed for help.
Overcome with despair not only at his continuing inability to find a way to save Dean from his fate but at his realization that nothing could save Dean as long as he didn’t want to be saved, Sam got drunk in a bar at 2:00 in the afternoon, and finally found in a whiskey glass the maudlin willingness to ask Dean outright what was wrong with him, that he cared so little about himself. Dean was spared trying to answer only by a phone call notifying him, as Bobby’s emergency contact, that Bobby was in a hospital in an unexplainable coma. Checking Bobby’s room for clues, the brothers learned that Bobby had been investigating the similar death of a physician, and that the doctor’s most recent and unsanctioned research into sleep and dreams had involved a rare plant reputed in folklore to allow the user to walk in and influence other people’s dreams.
The brothers reluctantly approached Bela for help in obtaining some of the dream root, and although she initially refused, she turned up with it anyway, professing that she owed Bobby for having saved her life once. After turfing Bela out, the brothers drank a tea brewed from the root along with some of Bobby’s hair in order to link them into Bobby’s dream, and shortly found themselves in a nightmarishly pleasant version of Bobby’s house, one without the customary books and clutter. Sensing movement or a presence outside the windows, Sam went to look outside, and discovered a Technicolor-bright idyllic landscape with white picket fences, colorful gardens, clean laundry hanging on the line, and a showroom-new version of Bobby’s beat-up old Chevelle SS parked out front. As he explored, he was attacked with a baseball bat by Jeremy Frost, one of the dead doctor’s study subjects, who maintained that he was acting in self-defense because Bobby had come after him.
Inside, Dean discovered a terrified Bobby hiding in a locked closet behind a badly scratched-up door. He tried to persuade Bobby that they were in a dream, only to find them both confronting the accusing and violent specter of Bobby’s dead wife, whom he had killed years ago while she was possessed, before he had become a hunter and learned less fatal ways to deal with demonic possession. In his guilt and despair, Bobby was ready to let her kill him, but Dean refused to let him give up, demanding that Bobby listen to him, take control of his dream, and wake up. Finally persuaded, Bobby first concentrated and made his wife disappear, and then woke up – and the boys, sharing his dream, woke up simultaneously, just in time for Sam to escape a killing blow from Jeremy’s bat.
The boys and Bobby realized that Jeremy – who, until his exposure to the dream root, had suffered from Charcot-Wilbrand syndrome, an inability to dream following a brutal beating by his father with a baseball bat – still had access to both Bobby’s and Dean’s dreams, since both of them had drunk beer from bottles offered by Jeremy, thus giving him access to their DNA. They searched for Jeremy for two days without success, avoiding sleep for safety, until Dean, in frustration, decided to fall asleep in order to confront Jeremy in the dream plane. Sam used some of Dean’s hair and the root to follow Dean into his dreams, getting one surprisingly sweet and gentle glimpse of Dean’s own buried desires – a normal life with loving Lisa Braeden and her son Ben – before Jeremy appeared and took over the dream, turning it into nightmare.
Pursuing Jeremy through a forest, the brothers were separated. Dean found himself in a corridor that looked like the forest, with many closed doors set in the forest-papered walls. Sam, still in the forest, woke up again in the Impala, but Jeremy was beside him instead of Dean, and attacked him again with the baseball bat. Staking Sam out on the ground in a crucifixion pose just by thinking about it, Jeremy demonstrated graphically that he had become skilled at manipulating the dream world, and he warned that he wouldn’t let the brothers wake up and stop him.
The door at the end of the hall opened, and Dean found himself facing … himself. As his doppelganger used all of Dean’s self-esteem issues against him, Dean tried to wake himself up, to no avail. The taunting, playing on all the dark emotions that Dean had bottled up inside and always denied, finally triggered violent anger. Savagely acknowledging his fury at his father for failing his family and his own conviction that he didn’t deserve what John had pushed on him and didn’t deserve to go to Hell, Dean viciously beat up his double and shot him to death. But that wasn’t the end of it, because the dead double opened demon-black eyes and warned that Dean couldn’t escape, that he was going to die and this was what he would become.
In Sam’s corner of the dream, Jeremy sadistically gloated over his prowess in the dream world by brutalizing Sam, smashing his bound legs with the bat. Realizing that the dream root should have given him the same kind of ability to manipulate the dream, Sam concentrated on distracting Jeremy by introducing his own worst nightmare: the appearance of his abusive father. With Jeremy’s attention diverted, Sam freed himself and killed Jeremy with his own bat. Jeremy’s death released his hold on the dream, and the brothers woke up.
Back in the real world, they learned why Bela had really helped them; while they had been dreaming, she had stolen the Colt. As the brothers prepared to depart and hunt her down, Dean asked hesitantly what Sam had seen while walking in his dreams, and was secretly relieved to learn that Sam hadn’t seen anything of the confrontation Dean had with himself. With difficulty, Dean admitted to Sam quietly that he didn’t want to die and didn’t want to go to Hell, and Sam promised that they’d find a way to save him.
Still, echoing in Dean’s mind was a vision of his own dream self – not his slain dream double – snapping his fingers in satisfaction and smiling with dead-black demon eyes.
This episode ranks among the very best, period.
I’m going to explore several topics, including dreams and the things that the brothers did and did not say.
Dreams are ephemera, phantoms of the mind. They aren’t real. But the power of our minds is such that we can make them real – at least in a metaphorical way – if we try hard enough. We speak of the good things we really desire as being dreams, and of horrendous and frightening experiences as being nightmares. We try to analyze and understand the dreams we have in sleep. Historically, we treated dreams as signs and omens, and sought to decipher their meaning. Psychologists have built structures for dream interpretation, trying to assign substantive emotional meaning to some of the things we most commonly dream – falling, flying, running, being naked in public – and to use them to identify problems we may be worrying about but not admitting even to ourselves.
Current physiological and neurological theory doesn’t ascribe any particular significance to dream images or stories themselves, considering them just the continued background processing of visual memories and emotions by our subconscious minds. Studies have suggested that dreaming is linked to memory and plays a role in our ability to learn, perhaps by allowing the brain to review, process, and store information without the interference of additional conscious input. Young children – quick learners – spend more of their sleep time dreaming than adults do. Many people – me included – report waking with solutions for problems we were wrestling with when we went to sleep. During dream sleep, a normal person is physically incapable of moving, because the brain shuts down signals going to the spinal cord to prevent dreams being acted out. Individual dreams may last only seconds or a few minutes, but be perceived in memory as having taken a long time.
The dreams in Dream a Little Dream of Me fall into several categories. Bobby’s nightmare, engineered by Jeremy, was a warped memory of the past, in which his own guilt and grief accused him through the image of his dead wife. Sam’s normal, unassisted erotic dream of Bela was the most natural (and hilarious!) event of the show (is it any surprise that “sexual experience” is the single most common dream cited by males in every study that’s ever been done?), and could probably be attributed to nothing more than that Sam is a normal young man who’s been celibate for months, that he had Bela on the brain when he fell asleep because Dean was calling her, that Bela is a pretty and intelligent woman, even if she is morally bankrupt, and that sexually dominating Bela – with her willing cooperation – would be very satisfying.
Dean’s dreams were the most interesting. The first one – perhaps just a random flash as Jeremy was combing through his mind for things to use against him? – was a wistful glimpse of a normal life he wished he could have had, with a son and a woman who loved him. The romantic, idealized content of that dream was a surprise to Sam, who might reasonably have expected his highly sexed brother to go the more common erotic route, and was exquisitely painful as well, speaking to unacknowledged, unadmitted regrets. Dean’s defensiveness (I’ve never had this dream before) and embarrassment (Stop looking at me like that) both spoke volumes about how much that sweet and gentle vision meant to him and how awkward he felt at seeing Sam’s reaction of surprise, realization, understanding, and compassion.
Dean’s second dream was a brutal confrontation with things about himself of which he is ashamed and afraid. Nothing that his dream double said was new: we’d heard it all before from different mouths, from Sam in bitter moments throughout season one, especially Asylum and Scarecrow, from the Yellow-Eyed Demon speaking through John’s mouth in Devil’s Trap, and even from Dean himself speaking as a spirit in In My Time of Dying. What made it new and unexpected was the way in which Dean finally fought back, when his fury dismissed his bravado and let him openly acknowledge all the bitterness he was never able to voice, the ugliness that exists right alongside the love, and to rail against the unfairness that he’d accepted as his lot all his life. There was a catharsis in killing the part of himself that proclaimed his worthlessness, and standing alone and strong in a silence ringing of truth. That instant was therapeutic, and the benefit of it survived even the rising of the new fear that took away his hope of victory by asserting that, fair or not, deserved or not, he was still doomed to die and go to Hell and become what he most hated. He couldn’t admit any of that shameful vision to Sam, but it was that confrontation that finally let him reach out and tell Sam that he didn’t want to die and didn’t want to go to Hell – that he wanted to be saved and needed his brother’s help.
Dean’s dream confrontation with himself epitomizes what I most cherish about Supernatural: that it recognizes human complexity and doesn’t try to simplify it, and thus makes the Winchester brothers fully realized, human characters. Dean is noble, self-sacrificing, and generous – and he’s shallow, bitter, selfish, and resentful, all at the same time. He deeply loves, admires, and respects his father, and he’s simultaneously furious with him and hates him for failing his wife and his sons, for always putting Sammy first even while never being there for him, and for giving Dean responsibilities he should never have had to carry. He’s 29, and he’s 4. He’s grateful to be alive, and guilty about being alive. He’s self-confident, competent, and assured, and full of self-doubt, self-loathing, and uncertainties. He loves his brother more than life and can’t bear to think of living without him, and willingly gave up his own life to bring his brother back – but he doesn’t want to die, and he’s more afraid than he’s ever been in his entire life. And he’s Dean.
Sam’s role in Bobby’s and Dean’s dreams was a curious one. Since Jeremy had none of Sam’s DNA to play with, we never saw Sam’s own nightmares – unless you count the tryst with Bela! – but saw only his view of the dream worlds that the others were in. And in both circumstances, he wound up apart from the dreamer’s own nightmares and engaged in direct conversation with Jeremy. I would posit that Sam’s role in the dreams was like Jeremy’s, because he wasn’t the one being made to dream. Initially, neither was Dean, but in Bobby’s dream, Dean stayed inside and focused entirely on Bobby, while Sam seemed to feel the pressure of someone else’s eyes and went exploring. Initially, Jeremy didn’t know who he was, or the connection between him and Dean, although that was resolved as soon as he got into Dean’s mind.
As to why Bobby and the boys woke up from Bobby’s dream even as Jeremy was swinging on Sam, while Dean was later unable to wake himself up from his own dream, I would suspect that Jeremy’s surprise at finding Sam wandering around in Bobby’s dream distracted him from keeping concentration on Bobby to prevent him from waking up. He was careful not to make the same mistake when he went up against the brothers the second time, at least not until Sam hit on the idea of distracting him by introducing his abusive father into the dream world. That was a superb piece of strategy on Sam’s part, because with Jeremy focused on keeping Sam helpless and bound, trying to go up against him directly – say, by thinking himself free of the ropes and armed – probably wouldn’t have worked, given that Jeremy was experienced at controlling the dream world and Sam wasn’t. Tapping into Jeremy’s own fears, on the other hand, disrupted his control because, at least for an instant, Jeremy was afraid and reacting instead of being in charge.
Things Said, And Not
Judging from the conversation between the brothers in the bar, Dean hasn’t told Sam about his little private exchange in the parking lot with Ruby, and even if he did mention it (perhaps when Sam asked why the motel lights had been flickering?), he emphatically didn’t share Ruby’s admission that she didn’t know of any way to save Dean from the pit. Sam was grieving what Dean would become after he died, but he could easily have put that together from the things that Tammi revealed about Ruby’s human past and implied for the present-day witches who had, all unwitting, also sold their souls to her. Dean’s fate was clear from those comments. Sam’s a bright boy, and it didn’t require Ruby’s direct confirmation to draw the lines and understand that people who sold their souls would become demons themselves after they died.
Based on this episode and Playthings, Sam has a predictable pattern as a drunk: alcohol is his fountain of Dutch courage in his refuge of despair. Sam doesn’t usually feel helpless, but when he truly thinks he’s failed and can’t see any way out, the booze has an attraction because under the influence, with his inhibitions out of the way, he can say things that he wouldn’t normally be able to get out. While Sam doesn’t have nearly as much trouble as Dean does in saying what he himself feels, he seems to need winding up before he can broach the worst things that torment him and that he knows will hurt Dean. This time, it was the grief of trying both to understand and to get Dean to explain why he would think so little of himself that he wouldn’t even try to stay alive. Sam is well aware of Dean’s shortcomings and is normally quick to tease and complain about them, but not when it cuts so close to his brother’s heart. For all the ways in which Dean can irritate and fall short of the mark, he’s also the big brother who has always defined heroism and love for Sam, and whom Sam wouldn’t trade for anything or anyone. The thought that Dean wouldn’t understand or care how vitally important and priceless he is in Sam’s eyes – the thought that he could believe he had no value – is damning and ugly, and like Sam, I think I need a drink.
Dean also clearly still hasn’t told Sam about what the Yellow-Eyed Demon said to him about Sam not coming back as 100% pure Sam. He partially explained in Malleus Maleficarum why he’s constantly been asking Sam if Sam is all right, when he took advantage of the situation to point out that Sam hadn’t been acting like himself, but he was careful not to suggest that it meant anything in particular. Dean did share that information with Bobby in Sin City, and it was fascinating to watch Bobby here wondering whether Sam’s ability to influence the dream world might have been due to a resurgence of his psychic abilities rather than just having taken the dream root, and to see the suggestion planted in Sam’s mind even though he cautiously denied believing it. Dean has been careful not to suggest anything of the kind; it will be interesting to see whether Bobby’s question starts raising doubts about himself in Sam’s own mind. I believed his puzzled denial, but since he never understood how his abilities worked in the first place, how would he even know if they had started turning up again?
On another aspect of that concern, I found it fascinating that nothing was said by anyone about Sam having killed Jeremy – a human being – and not someone possessed or infected, either. I don’t believe he had any choice, given that Jeremy was focused on killing both of the Winchesters and anyone else who stood in the way of him being able to play dream-god, but it’s a first for the Winchester brothers. Sam was responsible for a free-willed human’s death once before, when he destroyed the amulet that Sue Ann was using to control the Reaper in Faith, but he didn’t kill her himself. On Jeremy, he swung the bat, and after his first swing, Jeremy wasn’t in any condition to defend himself against the second.
I wonder what effect that will have on our gentle-natured Sam.
Dean not telling Sam about his dream confrontation with himself, and his relief at hearing that Sam hadn’t seen any of it, was not a surprise. Somehow, I don’t think that he’ll ever be inclined to admit to that encounter or to any of the things he said during it, or to the way that the image of himself with demon eyes is haunting him.
Finally, when it came down to things said, I loved what both brothers revealed. Sam’s drunken questions to Dean finally made Dean understand how badly his own resolve not to try getting out of the deal was really hurting his little brother, and also taught him that Sam could see the shame and self-loathing that he thought he was hiding. Dean put his heart on the line with Bobby, coming out with an open declaration that he loved Bobby like a father and wouldn’t let him die. And finally, Dean confessed to Sam that he didn’t want to die and go to Hell, and accepted Sam’s agreement that they would find a way to save him. That was huge.
This was a great story by Sera Gamble and Cathryn Humphris, and a wonderful script by Cathryn. I can’t say enough about Steve Boyum’s direction, either, especially in the dream sequences, and when combined with the spectacular cinematography and stellar post-production work. The segue from Dean’s line, When did it start raining upside down?, with all the color and lighting values shifting on Dean as he turned away from the bright blue and green peacock motel room window into the bleached process look of Bobby’s dream house was breathtaking. Having Sam outdoors in saturated Pushing Daisies Technicolor looking through the window and seeing Dean in the indoor bleached process color was visually stunning. I loved the way that the dream sequences were set apart sometimes with slightly out-of-synch sound – hearing Sam’s car door slamming an instant before you saw it, for example, and hearing the line repetition by Dean in Bobby’s dream when he was desperately trying to make Bobby believe him. And the entire scene of Dean facing off against himself was incredible. This episode deserves to be nominated for technical awards by the boatload, from direction to cinematography to lighting to set design to sound and soundtrack.
And then there was the acting.
Jared Padalecki’s timing and expressions on the whole Bela erotic dream scene – especially its embarrassing aftermath – were priceless and perfect, and utterly hilarious. From waking up with drool down his hand (giving a whole new hysterical meaning to having a “wet dream!”) to his dismayed glance down and his transparent delay in turning around or standing up, his execution of guilty embarrassment was flawless. Jensen Ackles’ handling of Dean’s reactions, from his initial knowing teasing to the realization that something was very off in Sam’s response to Bela, completed the scene wonderfully.
Beyond the funny, both boys also brought the drama, fully as much in silence as in speech. The look on Dean’s face as he sat beside Bobby’s bed and the realization on Sam’s face about just how badly Dean was hurting about Bobby, were poignant. Both brothers’ reactions to Dean’s dream of Lisa were delicately understated. The final scene in the car felt as potent as the last scene in Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things, but with a totally different outcome, because this time, Dean both gave support and reached for it, and Sam reached back.
The scene of Dean’s confrontation with himself deserves its own blog, but I can’t do justice to what Jensen did with himself and with the script. Both Deans were Dean, but each was different, and as they circled around each other, there was never any question whether you were looking at the Dean we know and love, or the doppelganger. Dean’s explosion was terrifying and satisfying all at once, ultimately life- and self-affirming, only to be voided by the transformation of his dead double into a demon. You have to wonder what would have happened to Dean if Sam hadn’t broken them both free of the dream when he did … especially given the very last image of the episode, of Dean’s own dream-self with demon eyes.
There’s more to say, but I’ve gone on long enough. I’ll throw in one parting comment, though. In my episode haiku for this one, I observed that our ghosts, monsters, and demons are inside of us.
I think our angels are, too.