3.15 Time Is On My Side: We’re Trying to Do the Same Thing Here
Tempts Sam with deal-breaking hope.
Bela meets her fate.
Abducted from the parking lot of his health club, a plastic surgeon in
Elsewhere, trying to learn who holds Dean’s contract, the
As the boys started their hunt,
Driving back to
This episode contained an embarrassment of meta riches, from the differences between the brothers as Dean’s deal approaches to another glimpse at the hunter world to the juxtaposition of Dean and Bela. I’ll touch on all of them.
Brothers Down to the Wire
With only three weeks to go on Dean’s deal, we saw the stress on the brothers mount. The vicious demon interrogation at the beginning was telling and frightening. In contrast to his reluctance in Devil’s Trap, Sam was as invested and harsh as Dean, beginning the exorcism on a simple exchange of glances without even consulting a book or altering his casual posture. But when the demon professed eagerness to join his demon pals in looking forward to Dean’s arrival in Hell, Sam hesitated. Demons lining up for payback obviously meant more agony for Dean later, and Sam’s soft, Should I …? expressed his concern about making things worse. Dean’s reply – Send him someplace he can’t hurt anyone else – combined with the sick look on his own face that Sam didn’t see, said louder than words that he understood and feared what he was doing to himself, but that he’d rather accept the burden than chance having it fall on innocents. As Kripke said in LA, Dean is the hero.
Sam’s phone call after the exorcism subtly changed everything. Looking back, it’s clear that Sam was hoping from the outset that he was on the trail of Doc Benton. He led Dean to conclude that zombies were involved in order to get him invested in the hunt – not hard, knowing Dean’s delight in hunting anything film-legendary! – but clearly didn’t believe it himself, judging from the smile that crossed his face when Dean wasn’t looking. His delight in having his guess confirmed by the coroner and the kidney victim was palpable. Suddenly he saw a way to save Dean, and the potential costs and consequences were far from his mind in the rush of certainty that he had found an answer to the immediate fear of losing his brother.
Hope altered Sam’s behavior. Having hope lightened his step and made him more likely to laugh than we’ve seen him in a long time, certainly since Mystery Spot. The scene in the motel room where Sam deliberately tried to gross Dean out while he was eating was not just a delightful return to the brotherly teasing of earlier days, but a reflection of Sam’s newly restored hope.
When Dean got the phone call from Bobby that set him on the trail of Bela, everything abruptly fell apart. Dean immediately wanted to track down Bela and the hope of the Colt; Sam discounted the idea that the Colt might be reachable, and wanted to continue pursuing the nearby hope of making Dean immortal in order to defeat the contract. Dean immediately realized what Sam had done by deceiving him into the hunt and dismissed the idea that the Doc Benton solution could apply to him, reacting instead to the overwhelming fear that Sam was going down a prohibited avenue that would get him killed by having Dean weasel out of the contract by not being able to die. Sam proposing to take the same step in order to avoid that clause as well prompted Dean’s dismissive pop culture reference of the night to Sid Vicious of the Sex Pistols and his junkie girlfriend Nancy Spungen, whose self-destructive mutual need relationship resulted in both of their deaths.
This episode saw the boys doing yet another character reversal, mirroring their respective positions in last week’s Long Distance Call. In Long Distance Call, Dean was the one desperately grasping at straws of hope extended by the sound of his father’s voice, while Sam stayed grounded sadly in reality and tried to let Dean down gently. Here, Sam was the one chasing hope beyond reason, again through a connection with John, while Dean clung to practicality despite its flavor of despair.
The fight between the boys in the motel room with Dean adamant about leaving and Sam insisting on staying to pursue the Doc Benton hunt carried things to a new level. Dean ordered Sam to leave with him, and when Sam refused, came up against the realization that neither of them could force the other to do anything. They could guilt, tease, or dare each other into doing things, but it always remained the individual’s choice. Dean may have been able to force his will on Sam when Sam was younger, but he silently acknowledged here that Sam was a man, and his own man, and that Dean couldn’t make him toe the line any more. It also marked the first time I can recall that Dean walked away from Sam on his own initiative. Sam had left Dean before to go to Stanford in pre-show days, to hunt Dad in Scarecrow, and to hunt for his destiny in Hunted, but Dean had never been the one to initiate a walk-away, and usually gave in to Sam’s pleading puppy eyes. But not this time, not with his clock ticking down.
That entire exchange broke my heart with the realization of the maturity that’s grown between them as Sam has come into his own, and as Dean has admitted both that Sam can take care of himself and that Dean himself won’t be there to take care of him in the future.
Dean: Now, you coming or not?
Sam: I’m staying here.
Dean: No, you’re not, because I’m not going to let you wander in the woods alone to track some organ-stealing freak.
Sam: You’re not going to let me?
Dean: No, I’m not going to let you!
Sam: How are you going to stop me? [beat] Look, man. We’re trying to do the same thing here.
Dean: I know. But I’m going. So if you want to stay, stay. [opens door, looks back] Sammy, be careful.
Sam: You, too.
The flip side of that argument played out again when Doc Benton had been defeated and strapped to his own table. He offered immortality as his ransom, promising that he could help Dean, and Sam was the one begging Dean to consider it. Dean’s flat refusal shut Sam down with the realization that he couldn’t force Dean any more than Dean could force him. And while Dean has become more tolerant of some supernatural entities over time – as witness his helping Lenore’s vampire family – when it comes down to his own existence, he won’t willingly adulterate his own core humanity. If it’s stripped from him in Hell against his will, that’s one thing, but his willing surrender of it isn’t in the cards.
In the end, both brothers gave in to each other. Dean let Sam have his solo hunt, pursuing the quest for immortality even though he didn’t believe in it, and Sam accepted Dean’s refusal to consider immortality and reluctantly helped him bury both Doc Benton and the immortality formula in his journal. Sam also acceded to Dean’s plan for dealing with Bela.
Along the way, both brothers reacted differently to the hunts. Given Sam’s single-minded focus on saving his brother, Dean instantly doubted his motives for the proposed zombie hunt, but was happy to focus on the hunt as a way to gainfully occupy himself while also distracting himself from his impending fate. As soon as Bobby provided word on Bela’s location, however, Dean abandoned the seemingly random hunt in favor of trying to save himself, his uncharacteristic selfishness an indicator of his deteriorating state of mind. Sam, meanwhile, had only one interest in the Doc Benton hunt, but when he discovered the injured young woman, he reverted to
Finally, when speaking of the brothers mirroring each other, I couldn’t help but think of Hunted as I watched Sam having to listen helplessly to Dean fighting Benton, the same way that Dean had been forced to hear Sam’s fight with Gordon, neither able to see what was happening, both fearing more for the other than for their bound selves.
Rufus Turner – What Future Does a Hunter Have?
Dean’s encounter with reclusive former hunter Rufus Turner added another dimension to the world of hunters. According to Bobby, Rufus had been a hunter who was now mostly a hermit, doing a little selling on the side. Rufus had the customary cabinet full of guns, but there were also award plaques on the wall near his computer and bowling or discus trophies on his mantel with his cross. His security cameras scanning front and rear would suggest that those awards and trophies were part of his pre-hunter past, because his present was laced with the same paranoia we’ve seen in other hunters’ homes, and flavored with bitter anti-social messages discouraging any casual contact.
Rufus was a character I’d love to see again, a man who “knows things.” Somehow, he knew about Dean’s deal, at least that Dean had made one and that his time would be up in three weeks. He had contacts in law enforcement who were able to obtain Bela’s files from
I have to wonder how much that image of a bleak future figures in Dean’s thoughts about his own lack of a future, and his speculations about what kind of life he could have if he did manage to survive. He never really seemed to think about his future until he no longer had one, and dreams now have no meaning beyond the desperate wish not to die and go to Hell.
Dean and Bela: Flip Sides of Demon Coins
We finally got Bela’s (excuse me, Abby’s) backstory in two very concise flashbacks. We learned that she had been born into a very wealthy family, was abused by her father, and had made a classic ten-year deal with a demon to have her parents killed when she was fourteen years old. Dean didn’t learn quite as much, not being privy to the abuse that led to her making the deal, but he learned enough to put a new spin on lines we’d heard or reactions we’d gotten from Bela along the way, including her We’re all going to Hell, Dean; might as well enjoy the ride comment in Bad Day at Black Rock, and her snide response to Dean’s What, did Daddy not give you enough hugs or something? comment in Red Sky at Morning. Looking back, Bela’s surprise at Dean’s agreement with her Hell comment made pretty clear that she didn’t know about his deal at the time of the rabbit’s foot incident.
To me, the most interesting aspect of her backstory is the way in which Bela provides a negative of Dean. Bela made her deal to destroy her family, while Dean made his to save his brother. Bela had everything material and nothing emotional, while Dean had nothing material, but love and to spare. Bela used the evil that happened to her as a child and the evil in her own response to it to justify doing more uncaring evil to others throughout the rest of her life, while Dean, however scarred by the evil that destroyed the happy life he had known, adopted a moral code that made saving others his highest priority no matter the cost to himself. Bela thought nothing of killing others casually in pursuit of her goal, while even at the last and despite his loss and loathing, Dean couldn’t bring himself to kill her in cold blood when she wasn’t directly posing an immediate threat to him or to Sam.
I would posit that family made a huge difference in their development. However much John’s choices and actions unintentionally injured his boys as he tried to juggle being a fumbling single parent while also becoming a hunter, there was no question that John loved his sons, and that John’s love and innate decency had a lot to do with shaping Dean into a strong and moral man who provided a capable second good example to his younger brother. The Winchesters had an advantage over Bela there, as well as in their heart-strong brother bond. What her father did to Bela, along with what her mother presumably failed to do to protect her, definitely affected who she became, particularly including her ability to trust and care about others.
I don’t consider that Bela’s past justified her subsequent actions, however. I don’t mean to trivialize child abuse and the impact it has on a developing individual, but I’ve always believed that nothing that happens to us excuses the choices we later make freely for ourselves. I can understand Bela without condoning her choices or her actions. She was very young and very damaged when she made her deal, when the demon first approached her with the seductive idea of being rid of her abusers. I can pity her for that. I can further pity her because it didn’t appear as if she had summoned the demon, but that the demon was being opportunistic and tempting her, like the one in Crossroad Blues who stayed at the bar and made more deals than just the one she’d been summoned to fulfill.
However, I suspect that once Bela grew old enough to really appreciate the enormity of what she had done at least in terms of putting a finite limit on her own life and guaranteeing that it would end in Hell, finding a way to alter her deal was probably what drove her to become a purveyor of supernatural artifacts. I would guess that she was always looking for information and artifacts powerful or rare enough to buy her more time or a different fate, and that while the money angle of it was enjoyable, the real driver was a calculated bid to escape her contract. She admitted to Dean in the end that stealing the Colt was a bid for escape, not for monetary gain; I suspect that many of her other acquisitions were the same. And in pursuit of that goal, she didn’t care whom she hurt. Poor pretty little rich girl, who ultimately cared only for herself and in the process came richly to deserve her poor and ugly fate. Knowing her own motives, she couldn’t accept that anyone else viewed the world differently; knowing herself damned, she couldn’t accept that other people weren’t, that they actually could be noble.
In the end, Bela and Dean effectively demonstrated Aesop’s fable of the scorpion and the frog, which posits that we can’t overcome our natures even when following our natures isn’t in our best interest. You know the story: a scorpion asks a frog to carry him across a stream, and when the frog hesitates, points out that it wouldn’t be in the scorpion’s interest to sting the frog along the way, because then both would drown. Nonetheless, halfway across the stream, the scorpion stings the frog, and when the frog asks why, sadly notes before they both die that it’s in his nature to sting.
Bela made a good scorpion. It was in her selfish and untrusting nature to lie, steal, cheat, and kill. In dealing with the Winchesters, her best interest would have been to tell the truth and appeal to them for help, as she eventually did in Red Sky at Morning when her plans went awry. As Dean noted, the bitch of it all was that if she had come to them, it would have been in the nature of the brothers to try to help her even at the risk of their lives despite all that she had done to them. Instead, she followed her nature, and made it impossible for them to help her by stealing the Colt and pursuing her own agenda to within minutes of her contract coming due. She stung them and she drowned, and because of her sting, they lost their best hope of saving Dean.
The sad joy of the situation was that Dean also stayed true to his nature by electing not to kill Bela even after he’d made up his mind to do so, to get revenge on the woman who’d tossed his last real hope of life away. Yes, he saw the Devil’s shoestring charm and calculated her probable fate, but even without that, I don’t think he’d have been able to pull the trigger on her when she wasn’t posing an immediate threat to him or to anyone else; it would have been too much a denial of his nature, even with as little time as he has left. Leaving her alive wasn’t in his best interest, as witness her subsequent attempt to murder both Winchesters, but killing her would have left him feeling soiled and guilty, and been a step toward making him think that he might deserve his fate.
But Dean had it right in Dream a Little Dream of Me. He doesn’t deserve to die, and he doesn’t deserve to go to Hell.
Bela deserved both.
I obviously loved this episode on many levels, but the silliest one had to do with Rufus Turner’s furniture: I used to own his dinette chairs! No lie: they’re a dead match for the dinette set I bought new back in 1979, and donated to a secondhand thrift store in the late 1980’s. Given their cheap mass-produced nature, it’s unlikely in the extreme that the ones the
Sera Gamble’s script served up a tasty smorgasbord of creepiness, gore, laughter, just desserts, and angst. I thought it a particularly neat twist in her story that Doc Benton’s immortality formula – at least as much of it as Sam could understand – didn’t rely on black magic or evil at all, making the formula itself morally neutral. Hearing that from Sam over the phone actually made Dean consider it, if only for a moment, before realizing that the hideous price of maintaining it was the fly in the ointment.
I’m sure creator Eric Kripke was in transports of delight over the maggots, the heart extraction, and the melon baller threat to Sammy’s puppy eyes – he may have a new set of favorite scenes to trump even his “hand down the garbage disposal” from the pilot!
My one story note (we’ll ignore how Doc Benton found Sam, and how Dean figured out which cabin was Doc’s, okay?) was that I wondered why John, with his penchant for thoroughness, would have settled for heart surgery and not have dismembered, salted, and burned Doc Benton. And then I thought, maybe he did, and that explained all the railroad-stitched skin grafts on his face and the Frankenstein-attached fingers and hands, as well as why Dean didn’t bother with the customary salt and burn routine, opting for living burial instead.
Chris Lennertz did some fun things with the musical underscore to this episode. I bounced in delight when he reprised a musical theme from the pilot as Sam reported on his research, just before Sam pulled out John’s journal, which we first saw in the pilot and have long missed since. Nice continuity! The sound guys also get a happy Kripke mention for letting us hear why the nurse freaked out in the teaser opening, even though the Standard & Practices people probably wouldn’t under any circumstances have let us actually see the liver donor’s intestines squishingly hitting the floor. It appears that Doc Benton didn’t bother suturing up the donors he figured were goners anyway …
Both of the boys nailed their performances, as usual. We’re spoiled with the caliber of their acting; we expect them to be great, so it simply doesn’t strike us when they are. But watching Jensen Ackles convey the physical sickness of Dean’s fear during the demon exorcism, the reluctant pain and pride of his realization that he couldn’t force Sam to go with him, the sorrow and fear of arguing with Sam and leaving him alone, and the determination to remain true to himself no matter the price just reinforce the conviction that Dean is real. Jared Padalecki did equally well with Sam, conveying his initial deliberate deception, his repressed excitement and joy at the prospect of coming up with a way to save his brother, his increasing confidence, conviction, and relaxation with the developing idea that his plan could work, and then the crushing loss of realizing that it was all for naught. Oh, boys.
Lauren Cohen did beautifully with Bela particularly in her confrontation with Dean, refusing to show weakness by offering a reason other than greed for killing her parents, and in the last phone conversation, when she finally broke down in her fear and desperation. The look on her face as the hellhounds bayed was ultimate desolation and total loss. Dean can cling to his conviction that he doesn’t deserve his fate and to his knowledge that his father eventually escaped Hell; Bela had nothing, and Lauren made that real. I’ll confess that I won’t really miss Bela – I think she was unfortunately over-used, getting the better of the boys too easily and too often, and while I appreciated the character, I didn’t want to spend time with anyone so callous, arrogant, and self-centered – but I will miss the spark that Lauren brought to the role.
The guest stars did yeoman work, especially Steven Williams as Rufus and Billy Drago as Doc Benton (whoops – I almost wrote “John Bly” – shades of The Adventures of
Sam’s line, We’re trying to do the same thing here, really did capture the essence of this episode. Sam and Dean were both chasing their own ways to keep Dean alive … and Bela and Doc Benton were doing the same, trying to preserve their own lives. The differences came in how they chose to try to accomplish their ends, and what they were willing to give up – or not.
Dean doesn’t deserve to die. He doesn’t deserve to go to Hell. But with the clock ticking down and hope in short supply, I fear he may do both.
This week, the third season will end with one last episode, number 16 instead of number 22. I can’t wait to see it, and don’t want it to be over; the season was too short. I understand why the writers felt the need to strike, and I supported their decision, but I regret all the things we lost as a result. Even though most of the lost episodes would have been of the stand-alone monster-of-the-week (MOTW) variety, we know that the thread of Dean's deal would have been woven through them all in little tiny moments that we would have treasured – seeing Sam hiding what he was doing, hearing throwaway comments about ideas that didn't pan out, seeing the steadily increasing stress in both of them about the days ticking off with nothing to show for them, feeling the ultimate dissatisfaction even with successfully concluding a hunt because it wasn't the hunt that mattered. Every MOTW episode always made reference to the overarching story, always – and I miss all of those moments and desperately wish we had them.
But I give earnest thanks for everything we got.