Okay, this is an experiment: I'm trying to post my Supernatural blog entries originally made over on TVGuide.com here, in order to allow folk easy access. So, if you're monitoring my posts and get thrown by seeing a flurry of posts with funky dates, this is why ... I'm posting them here with their original posting dates. I'll be tagging posts as either episode commentaries or as Supernatural University entries, whichever is appropriate.
This was my very first venture into blogging:
Joining the Song in the Middle
I’ve been internally debating about entering the Supernatural blogosphere for a while: did I have anything worthwhile to add to the observations already being made by others (thank you, Tina, Rod, Sophie, Patronus …); did I have the dedication to commit to a regular blog schedule; did I want to invest the time. Ultimately, my passion for the topic overruled all other considerations, so – here are my ruminations on Supernatural. I hope people will enjoy them.
So you can understand where I’m coming from, a little background. I’m female and turning 50, a Federal government civil service professional. I am emphatically not a fan of horror films. I came to Supernatural when it first began both out of curiosity about its concept – two brothers rediscovering each other on a road trip through American urban legends while searching for their father and the thing that killed their mother – and because I’d been very impressed by earlier appearances by Jensen Ackles, particularly his work in Dark Angel. In the beginning, I found the show diverting and fun, although I wasn’t committed to it by any means. I was neutral on the horror elements but enjoyed the snarky humor, and I kept coming back for the interaction between the brothers because it rang so true, and because the characters displayed surprising and uncommon depths that just kept evolving and developing.
My conversion into true fandom came, appropriately enough, with the episode Faith. From concept to script to direction to acting to shooting to editing to music, the whole of it astonished and floored me, and it put a whole new complexion on all the episodes I had already seen. From that moment, I became a Supernatural evangelist, preaching the word of what to watch to all and sundry, and Supernatural became my one and only absolute must-see show every week. I started spending inordinate amounts of time on fan websites (I particularly recommend supernatural.tv, Anything But Ordinary, and jensenacklesfans.com to anyone looking for congenial company), blew the dust off my classic rock collection, and bought an iPod to add to it. And now I’m blogging. It boggles the mind.
The months between the end of the first season and the beginning of the second season were interminable, and constituted the first time in my life that I could remember wanting the summer to be over and the fall television season to arrive. My addiction was complete.
The heart of my fascination with the show lies in the characters of the brothers and their relationship with each other, and that will be the focus of my commentary, although I will also digress into technical aspects of the show – have you noticed the wonderful original music, and some of the incredible cinematography? If not, you’ve been missing a lot.
Sam and Dean are a study in contrasts. In the hands of Jared Padalecki and Jensen Ackles, they both come convincingly to life. Between the actors’ performances, the writers’ positive gift for challenging them, and some brilliant direction, Sam and Dean have become real to me, and I care about them as about no other characters currently on television. With others, I grieve that actors in genre shows are consistently overlooked at awards time, because these two, individually and especially together, are excelling at their craft.
Here’s my take on these two characters, based on the events of season one. Having lost his mother and the happy stability that had been his foundation, Dean became fiercely intent on preserving the family he had left. Obedient to a fault, particularly after one small act of rebellion nearly cost Sam’s life, he served as the family peacemaker between his father and younger brother, all in the hope of holding things together. Where his father John’s driving force was revenge, combined with a military “get it before it gets more of us” mentality, Dean’s motivator was protection, pure and simple. What made Dean extraordinary was a generosity of spirit that he would deny, but that nonetheless prompted him to extend that protection to others – he hunted to save lives, to save others from losing what he himself had lost. He took satisfaction in killing evil things not so much for the kill itself, as for what the kill accomplished. He distanced himself from having friends because, for all that he’s a smooth liar, his life was a lie, and he couldn’t lie to people he loved.
Having never known normality, peace, or contentment, Sam craved them. He wanted what the circumstances of his life had always denied: the chance to be like others, the chance to be innocent and responsible only for himself, the chance to have friends. Not having experienced the same overwhelming emotional upheaval as Dean – having grown up always in the strange milieu of his father’s obsessive hunt – Sam didn’t have the same sense of the fragility of things, and didn’t share his brother’s need to cling to what remained of what he’d known. His independence made him willing to strike out on his own. He didn’t share either John’s or Dean’s reasons for hunting, not until he suffered the loss of Jessica, and then he learned that he had a lot more in common with his father than he’d ever realized. He threw himself into the hunt with a single-minded, single-focused drive that admitted of no distractions.
During the first season, we saw Dean determinedly holding to his role of older brother, mostly hiding his own vulnerability while he found his purpose in keeping Sam and others safe by hunting. We saw Sam overset by personal tragedy, by the onset of frightening abilities he couldn’t control or avoid, by guilt for things beyond his control, and by the horrifying example of an eerie parallel to himself who committed murder and then suicide. Sam looked at his relationship with his father through new eyes, and so did Dean: while still irritated by being ordered without explanation, Sam nonetheless began to realize the love he’d overlooked, while Dean began to recognize John’s reckless and essentially self-destructive nature and resisted taking actions or obeying orders that put John at risk.
The end of the first season brought revelations on all sides, but the biggest ones, I think, came to Sam. Throughout the season, Dean displayed a pretty solid understanding of Sam, while hiding much of himself from his brother. Sam clearly understood that Dean lapsing into silence was evidence of Dean in pain – watch Sam reaching out to him at the end of Dead In The Water, during Faith and Something Wicked, and trying for reassurance when they were preparing for John’s rescue in Salvation – but he missed the concern that Dean hid at the end of Nightmare and most of the fear and uncertainty that dogged Dean throughout Home. Sam couldn’t miss all the effort that Dean made to pierce through his nightmares and nameless guilt starting in Wendigo and running as a prominent recurring theme through Bloody Mary and beyond, nor could he miss Dean’s determination to come to terms with Sam’s odd abilities through Home and Nightmare.
What I don’t believe Sam ever understood until Salvation and Devil’s Trap, however, was just how desperately Dean needed his family. The Demon in John’s body lied with the truth to torture Dean, saying in John’s voice things that Dean had doubtless thought to himself in the darkest corners of his insecurity: that his efforts were wasted and overlooked, that his family didn’t need him as much as he needed them, that John had always cared more for Sam. Given that Sam had always assumed that John had favored and preferred obedient Dean, seeing the view through Dean’s eyes provided by the warped lens of the Demon’s taunting clearly had a profound effect on Sam. A host of conflicting impulses warred behind Sam’s eyes as he held the Colt on his Dad and the Demon, but I can’t help but think that Sam’s realization of Dean’s need was a major factor in Sam’s decision not to kill. After having been as blindly obsessed as John with revenge on the Demon, Sam did a full one-eighty and put his brother and family first.
And that brings us to the new season. (I’d better get this up in a hurry, because in no time at all, it’s going to be time to blog the third episode of season two!)
In My Time Of Dying was a brilliant continuation of the denouement of Devil’s Trap. [Quick technical notes, here: the music scores for both DT and IMToD were by Jay Gruska, which meant a lovely carryover of the aching theme for Dean’s loss and fear from the first scene in the cabin into all of the scenes between John and Dean in the hospital, and the introduction of a kindred but different theme expressing Sam’s love and fear for Dean. Give them a listen. Then watch Everybody Loves a Clown, with its whacked-out calliope carny background, and give kudos for the freaky mood to Chris Lennertz, who was also responsible for the funky, equally perfect for the situation piano themes running through the preacher’s tent in Faith. Wizard stuff! Just as wizard was the direction and camera work in IMToD. Watch the scenes with Spirit-Dean, and notice how often they were done as oners, single takes without cuts, in which Dean was nevertheless sometimes there and sometimes not. That took great direction, good choreography, and a really gifted Steadicam operator. And the angle on Sam dropping the coffee and rushing to John’s side – movie-quality cinematography. Very satisfying to the soul.]
Dean may never consciously remember what happened during his out-of-body experience, but all of his foundations were rocked to their core, and he can’t escape that: not having been tortured by the Demon wearing his father’s face; not having heard his father most uncharacteristically speak his love out loud; not hearing whatever shattering thing John whispered to him, after telling him to watch out for Sammy and not to be scared; not watching his father die. And it seems clear to me from his demeanor and silence in Everybody Loves a Clown that Dean has guessed much more than Sam about the relationship between his own miraculous healing and John’s death, but he clearly hasn’t shared those thoughts with Sam. Dean’s experienced Reaper healing before, and felt wrong in the aftermath, and while the circumstances here are different – given that he saw John alive and well after his own healing – he would never believe in coincidence, not after Sam told him that he had said a Reaper was after him. That, combined with the valedictory nature of John’s last conversation with him, would pretty much have to add up in Dean’s mind to John having said goodbye and sacrificed himself. And for Dean, who has lived entirely for his family, that choice – of anyone, but least of all John or Sam, dying in order for him to live – is untenable. We saw in Faith how little regard Dean held for his own life, when weighed against anyone else’s: that his father would give up his life and his revenge in exchange for Dean’s life is not something that Dean would be able to accept. I believe that, fully as much as whatever thing John whispered to him, is what holds Dean trapped in the cold abyss of his loss and his rage. For the first time in his life, I think, Dean is furious with John for having given him a gift he would have flatly refused had he been given the choice. In savagely assaulting the Impala, I think he was punishing both John and himself, because that car symbolizes both of them.
Sam, meanwhile, has his own demons to confront. He has in the forefront of his mind the hideous memory of Max, the only one of the other “children like him” whom he has ever met. If he wondered when he first understood his link to Max whether he would or could become like him, how much more must he fear that now, after hearing the Demon say that he had plans for Sammy and the others like him? Max was a monster, and Sam is terrified of becoming the same.
On top of that fear is all the anger, regret, and guilt wrapped up with his loss of John. However cruel he was to do it so brazenly, Dean lashing out at Sam to face his real issues with John’s death did help Sam understand, admit, and start to come to terms with what was driving him, but Sam isn’t one to forgive himself any more than Dean is. Understanding is the first step, but it’s a long way from that to acceptance. I hope that Sam’s decision at the end of Everybody Loves a Clown to give Dean a little space, after having made clear that he knows that Dean isn’t all right, can start to redefine how he tries to get his older brother to share the burdens that he carries. Pushing Dean is a surefire trigger for temper.
A major problem is that Dean has never learned to accept help from anyone. It’s always been his job to take care of everyone else, starting with his father and Sam; he has no practice at revealing his weakness to someone he considers his charge to protect. He’s displayed vulnerability to Sam a couple of times, but only in extremity: Something Wicked and Salvation come to mind, but nothing else, unless you consider the shapeshifter betraying his thoughts in Skin.
And now Dean has two secrets to keep: whatever John told him, and what he appears to be thinking about the circumstances surrounding John’s death and his own miraculous cure. We learned in the first season that Dean considers lying to a friend, even by silence or omission, to be reprehensible enough that he simply avoids having friends, and that he simply couldn’t lie to a woman with whom he fell in love. Keeping a secret from Sam – lying to Sam, of all people – must carry its own corrosive poison, and I would bet that the things he can’t admit are at the root of Dean’s remoteness and his refusal to engage with Sam.
It’s going to be a long, dark, painful season.
I can’t wait.