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4.8 Wishful Thinking: Careful What You Wish For

4.8 Wishful Thinking: Careful What You Wish For

Cursed coin warps wishes,
Sowing chaos through a town.
Dean remembers Hell.

Episode Summary

A woman showering in a fitness center was frightened to discover an invisible stalker watching her, and reported it as a ghost.

Meanwhile, Sam pressured Dean to tell him what happened to him in Hell, citing Uriel having told him to ask, but Dean maintained that he didn’t remember. With no evident demonic activity going on, the brothers headed to Concrete, Washington to investigate the report of an invisible ghost haunting the women’s shower at the fitness center. Posing as the author of a book on the supernatural, Sam questioned the woman who’d reported the ghost while Dean checked out the building, but both came away with no evidence of a haunting. Sam was ready to believe the woman was nuts after she described a ghost who called her by name and chased her, but then helped her up after she fell down the stairs and pleaded with her not to tell his mom.

As they were about to dismiss the investigation, however, they heard a hunter telling a cop that he’d encountered Bigfoot. Knowing that Bigfoot was a hoax, they went to investigate, finding the strange tracks of very big feet leading off from the woods to a liquor store that had been ransacked for both sweet liquor and pornography magazines, with a scrap of brown fur left behind. With no clue about what they were dealing with, they were bemused to see a little girl ride past on her bike with a milk crate on the back, from which a copy of a porno magazine blew out. Peering around the corner, they saw the girl leaving a box full of booze and adult magazines outside the broken-open back door of the store, with a note saying simply, “Sorry.” They followed the girl home and wound up invited inside to treat her sick teddy bear – a seven-foot-tall, talking, terminally depressed teddy bear drowning its existential sorrows in booze. The girl told them that she had wished her teddy bear could be big, real, and talk. When they asked where her parents were, the girl told them that her mom had wished they were in Bali, so that’s where she thought they were.

Sending the girl to stay with a neighbor, the boys went to investigate the wishing well in the local Chinese restaurant where all the oddness had happened. On their way in, they passed a little boy whom they’d earlier seen chased by bullies, and who had just tossed a coin into the well, which was nothing more than a cheap plaster fountain. Testing the well himself, Dean tossed in a coin and made a silent wish – and a delivery boy showed up with his Italian sub with jalapeno peppers in hand. A newspaper headline about a local man winning the lottery and the sight of an obvious nerd being fawned on by a beautiful woman marked two other obvious wishes having been granted. Heeding Sam’s concern that stories about wishes being granted always came with a price, usually a deadly one, the brothers faked being health inspectors to shut off the wishes by closing down the restaurant and draining the fountain, and found an antique coin seemingly welded to the bottom of the pool, defeating all attempts to dislodge it. Sam did a rubbing of the coin and gave it to Dean to check out while he followed a hunch, and discovered that the invisible ghost at the fitness center was a naked teenaged boy who had wished to be invisible so he could spy on women in the shower. On his way back to the hotel, Dean saw the formerly bullied little boy chasing his three tormentors through town: another wish granted.

Sam returned to find Dean throwing up, made sick by the wished sandwich, and Dean filled him in on what his research had turned up: that the coin was Babylonian, cursed to bring chaos by turning any well into which it was thrown into a wishing well that would warp the wishes in bad ways. The only way to stop the effects would be for the person who threw in the coin and cast the first wish to remove the coin, which would reverse all the wishes.

While the brothers talked, the despondent teddy bear attempted to commit suicide by blowing its brains out, only to discover that losing some stuffing didn’t remove its awareness.

As Sam continued researching, Dean slept off his bout of food poisoning, only to fall into nightmares of Hell. When Sam woke him and asked what he’d been dreaming and why he’d been drinking so much lately, Dean continued to insist that he didn’t remember Hell and there was nothing wrong, and that he just wanted to work the case. Comparing what they knew about the people who had cast wishes and when, Dean used the newspaper announcement of the unexpected engagement of the nerd and the beautiful woman to identify the nerd, Wesley, as the likely first caster, and they confronted him. Wesley had already realized that his wish – that Hope, the beautiful woman who had never noticed him before, would love him more than anything – had unintended downsides, because the wish had taken over her personality entirely and turned her into someone fawning and dependent, someone he knew she wasn’t. Hope overheard Wes’s admission that he knew about the coin from his grandfather, and heard the boys pressuring him into taking back the wish.

Enroute to the restaurant, Dean, Sam, and Wes first ran over the invisible boy, without realizing what had happened, and then saw Todd, the formerly bullied little boy, overturn the SUV in which the three boys who had tormented him had taken refuge. Telling Sam to continue with Wes to the restaurant, Dean stopped to deal with Todd, only to discover that he was not only inhumanly strong, but apparently as invulnerable as Superman. Todd began strangling him. Meanwhile, as Sam and Wes arrived at the restaurant, with Wes continuing to complain about why he shouldn’t be able to get what he wanted, a bolt of lightning from the clear blue sky struck and killed Sam. Realizing that Sam’s improbable death had to be caused by a wish, Wes hurried into the restaurant and discovered that Hope had wished Sam dead because he was going to make Wes take back the wish that had created the love she now lived for. Finally understanding just how warped the wish had become, Wes reached into the fountain and took back the coin – and all the wishes unraveled. Hope no longer even recognized Wes; Sam woke up, unhurt; and Todd reverted to being just a normal little boy. Dean preserved the myth of Todd’s strength to prevent the bullies from bothering him again, and Wes surrendered the coin to Sam.

In the aftermath, the lottery winner was found to have claimed on a counterfeit ticket, the little girl’s teddy bear reverted to being a normal-sized stuffed toy – albeit one with a hole in its head and some stuffing missing – and her parents were abruptly returned from Bali. Sam melted down the coin, destroying its magic, and the case was over. Before they left, however, as all else reverted to normality around them, so did Dean: he confessed to Sam that Sam had been right, that he shouldn’t have lied to Sam, and that he remembered everything that had happened to him in Hell. He apologized for having lied and said that he wouldn’t lie any more, but he also refused to tell Sam anything about what had happened, professing that there weren’t any words for the things he’d seen and that talking about them wouldn’t heal him, because he could never forget and could never make Sam understand what it was like.

Commentary and Meta Analysis

Ben Edlund’s episodes may not be to everyone’s taste, but Wishful Thinking was definitely to mine. The episode’s mix of crazy humor and deadly serious consequence disguised what it was really about: the setup to discovering just exactly how and how much the Winchester brothers have each changed in the time they spent apart. In this discussion, I look at the role reversals between the brothers, the ways they’ve changed, and the ways in which they’ve remained the same. The brothers always reflect each other, and always have the hardest time realizing that when they look at each other, they’re really each seeing themselves.

I Just Wish You’d Talk To Me

Every season in Supernatural, it seems that the boys reverse roles. We’ve come to expect the flips, and these days, they’re happening faster than ever as the pressure mounts, forcing rifts and forcing change.

Dean having nightmares and refusing either to admit to them or to talk about them held up a mirror to Sam back in season one. The scene in Wishful Thinking with Sam waking Dean out of an obvious nightmare and trying to get him to explain his turmoil was a perfect flip of scenes in Wendigo and Bloody Mary when Dean caught Sam nightmaring and tried earnestly but without success to get him to share his fears and move beyond them. The irony of Dean’s eventual explanation was not lost on me, either: his protest that he couldn’t be healed and could never make Sam understand was almost word-for-word identical to Sam’s despairing thrust in Metamorphosis that he couldn’t possibly make Dean understand what having demon blood inside him meant to Sam. Each of them is always determined that the other doesn’t have to deal with his struggles alone, while at the same time maintaining that his own struggles are unique and unshareable. Each of them always wants the other to open up, while keeping his own secrets and shame hidden within.

Ultimately, both of them always break down and share, although the breaks happen in different ways and at different times. Sam’s admissions have generally come either when Dean flatly refused to be pushed any further without some explanation, as in Home, when Dean’s adamant refusal to return to Lawrence without knowing why Sam was so frantic finally prompted Sam to admit to his prophetic visions; or when Dean caught him out, as in Metamorphosis when Sam slipped up and mentioned being fed demon blood even though Dean hadn’t mentioned that and in Yellow Fever, when Dean saw him exorcising a demon with his mind; or when fear and despair either for himself or for his brother finally overwhelmed him, as in Playthings where he got drunk, confessed his fear that he was doomed to go evil, and forced Dean to promise to kill him if he became something other than what he was, in Houses of the Holy when he admitted to needing to believe in a divine force more powerful than his brother that could protect him from what he might become, and in multiple episodes in season three, when his growing and frantic concern to save Dean made him blurt out his fear in an attempt to get Dean to respond.

Dean’s admissions have generally come either in response to and as an attempt to defuse Sam’s fear and anger, as in Salvation, when he nakedly admitted to his fear and need for his family when Sam pinned him up against the wall, in Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things, when he finally responded to Sam’s expressed fear of losing him by admitting that he felt that he should have died and that it was his fault that John had died in his place, and in Fresh Blood, when Sam’s plea that he drop the courageous act and just be his brother again led to Dean first changing course on his hunt for Gordon and then reaching out matter-of-factly to teach Sam things he would need to know once Dean was gone; or when Dean’s attempts to keep lying to someone he loved finally pushed him to and past his own breaking point, as in Croatoan and Hunted, when he finally confessed the crippling secret that John had burdened him with, and in All Hell Breaks Loose, Part 2 and The Magnificent Seven, when he admitted to having made the deal and confessed its terms. We learned as early as season one’s Route 666 that it was simply against Dean’s nature to lie to or keep secrets from someone he loved, at least for any length of time, and that has been borne out consistently throughout the series by seeing Dean brought to the confessional time and time again by Sam, and to a lesser degree by Bobby. Dean is a consummate liar when it comes to strangers, but usually fails miserably at lying convincingly to those he loves, if only because he feels so guilty about doing it and his guilt comes across to anyone with a shred of empathy.

It’s fascinating to me that both brothers actually became adept at lying to each other this season. Sam was always better at it – witness how long and how well he kept the secret of knowing he’d been fed demon blood – and took after John in that regard, judging by our discovery during In My Time of Dying that John knew much more about Sam and Azazel than he’d ever divulged to either of his sons, or apparently to anyone else. But even though Dean generally betrayed his inner conflicts more consistently and openly than Sam, as evidenced by his recklessness in the first half of season two while he was struggling with his secrets and throughout most of season three while he alternately denied and accepted his coming death and damnation, this season marked the first time we saw him able to look Sam in the eye and lie without any of his usual tells revealing that he was lying. He had me fooled: I believed him when he first said that he didn’t remember, and although it was clear that he was experiencing those brief flashes of memories of blood, terror, and screaming, I didn’t guess that he had actively recovered more than that until his hallucination of Lilith in Yellow Fever told him, through his own subconscious, that he remembered every minute of his effectively forty years of torment.

I’ve noted before that when the boys lie to each other, they usually do it for two simultaneous reasons: to protect the other from pain and guilt, and to protect themselves from expected rejection. I think that both of those reasons are still in operation for all of the boys’ lies to each other. I believe that Dean’s refusal to share his ugly memories of Hell is fully as much to protect Sam from sharing the agony of his experience and feeling guilty for being the perceived cause of it as it is to protect himself from the pain, the terror, and the shame of what he saw and felt, and from the fear that knowing what happened to him there would diminish him in Sam’s eyes. Similarly, I think that Sam’s reticence about talking about the months he spent alone is as much to spare Dean the guilt of not having been there when Sam needed him as it is from the fear that Dean might reject him for the choices he made when he was alone, choices he knew Dean would have opposed, had he been alive to speak.

Wishful Thinking, by making Dean acknowledge what he has been withholding the same way that Sam had to acknowledge his concealment in Metamorphosis, has finally set the stage for both brothers to come clean. But as Dean observed about Sam’s plea here for him to talk about what was making him drink and have nightmares, Be careful what you wish for. I think it’s inevitable that when both brothers finally do lay their souls bare, it will hurt the other just as badly as they fear, because both brothers always hurt more for each other than they do for themselves. But the lesson they seem to keep forgetting to learn is that, no matter how badly the information hurts the other, it never leads to rejection; itnever leads to the loss of love that they both fear, but never verbalize.

It’s Too Late To Go Back To Our Old Lives, Dean; I’m Not That Guy Any More

One of the most telling moments in Wishful Thinking came when Dean pressed Sam to tell him what he would wish for. Dean had his own wishful moment in What Is And What Should Never Be, when he wished with a child’s simplicity that his mother hadn’t died when he was four. He knew all too well from that result the unintended consequences attendant upon a wish. In his wish world, he’d found himself estranged from the one person closest to him in reality and was forced to realize the impact of his choice on the innocent lives of others. Still, when Dean asked Sam what he would wish, he assumed that Sam would have chosen as he always had before: to be normal. After all, that was what had led to Sam leaving for college in the first place, and had been the often-expressed desire of Sam’s heart throughout the first season. Sam’s vengeful response – Lilith’s head on a plate. Bloody. – was a shock to Dean, and to us.

That was the single biggest indicator of the extent to which Sam has changed throughout the course of the series. Sam has given up on the one thing he most desired before; he’s now a stranger to the boy who left the family business of hunting for college, and to the boy who told Dean back during Shadow that he wanted to go back to school when the demon hunt was all over; the boy who said, I’m not going to live this life forever. Even back then, he’d said, Things will never be the way they were before, but he hadn’t meant it then the way he does now.

Even back in Shadow, Sam had been essentially innocent. That episode, much more so than the shapeshifter’s tainted revelations in Skin, was Sam’s first real glimpse into the desperate need for family that drove his brother, but even that glimpse didn’t change his own determination to go his own way. Throughout season two, however, after his panicked realization of his powers and the revelation in Devil’s Trap that the demon had plans for him, he began to lose sight of his old dreams in the desperate search for some way to avoid the demon’s plans and to find his own salvation by saving others, including saving his emotionally damaged brother from himself. Season three shifted his focus entirely from saving himself to an equally desperate search for a way to save his brother, even if that meant losing himself. By the time that No Rest For The Wicked rolled around, he was willing to accept using the powers he had so greatly feared and accepting any price, if it would mean saving his brother’s life and soul.

Losing Dean was evidently the final straw that broke the back of Sam’s innocence and destroyed his dream of any normal life. Sometime after Dean died, Sam clearly accepted Ruby’s tutelage in his powers and started using them in the hope of serving both vengeance and good. He salved his conscience with the reassurance that he was saving people, and saving more of them than he and his brother had managed to do through mundane means. Unable to save Dean or free him from Hell, he admitted in Lazarus Rising that he had hunted Lilith for revenge – and even with Dean back among the living, Sam still hates Lilith for the ruin she made of his own life, as well as for what she did to his brother right in front of his eyes.

His admission that his strongest wish would be to see Lilith brutally dead is a radical departure from the Sam we first met back in the pilot. That Sam was an essentially gentle soul who feared what his hunter life had made of him; he expressed it clearly in the second season’s Simon Said when he essentially admitted to Dean that he considered himself a killer and feared what he might be capable of. He no longer seems to fear those consequences, however, and the corollary is that he may consider himself already lost, no matter how much he has tried to persuade himself that the end of saving people justifies the means of using his demon-given powers.

The angels’ attitudes from It’s The Great Pumpkin, Sam Winchester would appear to cement that resolve. However much Sam hoped in his heart of hearts that he could still be saved, the attitudes expressed by Uriel and even Castiel suggest that they already consider him both lost and expendable. By condemning him seemingly out of hand for what was done to him, rather than for any actions of his own, they have made Dean’s task of keeping him on the side of the angels immeasurably harder, because they have reinforced Sam’s own growing belief that he’s already lost, and therefore has nothing more to lose.

I would submit, however, that he is wrong in that. He still has Dean; he still has something to lose. But Dean will never allow him to be lost, and will never concede that battle.

Similarly, Dean has changed because of his time in Hell. He’s never before flat-out refused to share with Sam; he’s always come around in time, usually because he’s realized that Sam can be hurt far more by his refusal to share than by anything he might have said to Sam about things he thinks or feels. His flat statement at the end of Wishful Thinking that he won’t lie any more but also won’t tell Sam what he remembers about Hell, despite his corresponding apology for that refusal, charts new territory. Over the course of the past three seasons, Dean began to create a new dynamic with his brother in which he recognized Sam’s maturity and accepted him as an equal partner, not just as a kid brother; with this episode, he set a limit on that sharing. Mind you, I don’t believe that it’s a limit that will stand; I expect it to fall, and very soon, as he and Sam are forced to share with each other the incidents of the time they spent apart. As Dean was in Hell, I think that Sam was in Hell on Earth; and I believe that, now that the doors have been partially opened in Metamorphosis for Sam and Wishful Thinking for Dean, the brothers will be forced to share with each other the things that they’ve been so desperately guarding within themselves.

In this, as in their lies to each other, the boys are very different than they were when we all first met. And yet, I think that they still remain essentially true to themselves. No matter what they may think, they remain quintessentially human if only because of their innate compassion, and they are forever brothers – and will always be mirrors of each other, because they each hold the other within themselves.

Production Notes

I delighted in Ben Edlund’s script. I’m certain that some people felt that the conclusion, in which Dean both revealed and fenced himself off from Sam, came out of the blue, but it instantly recalled to me the moment at the end of Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things when, after the case was over and they were driving away, Dean couldn’t help but pull over to open up to Sam about his survival guilt, despite being convinced that nothing Sam could say would make it better, and the similar moment at the end of Croatoan and the beginning of Hunted when Dean finally revealed John’s secret to Sam because he simply couldn’t hold it in any longer. It’s Dean’s pattern that he can’t keep lying to or hiding things from Sam, or from anyone else he loves; the pressure simply builds to the point where he can’t hold it in any longer and simply has to divulge the truth. The difference here is that he admitted to having lied and to having been wrong about it, but stuck to his guns about being unwilling to share the totality of the experience because he didn’t have the words to convey to Sam, who hasn’t been in Hell, the true and brutal reality of it.

That said, Edlund is a master of off-the-wall humor, and the existentially depressed and suicidal teddy bear was the perfect embodiment of it. The pop culture references were also hilarious, from Dean’s Run, Forrest, run! line, observing the kid fleeing from the town bullies, to his characterization of the porn- and booze-obsessed Bigfoot as a “deepwoods Duchovny” and to identifying Michael Jackson and David Hasselhoff as examples of people going crazy because they got what they wanted.

Robert Singer’s direction was a marvel of understatement that built on the innate chemistry between Jensen Ackles and Jared Padalecki, and on the way they interacted with both the child actor guests and the gifted Ted Raimi, playing Wesley. I particularly loved the unison bits between the Winchester brothers, including their sitting down together outside the liquor store in mutual befuddlement, and delivering the unison Easy? line in response to Wesley’s assertion that they were handsome guys who always got what they wanted. The silent moments where the brothers simply reacted to the situation and to each other – especially in the liquor store, teddy bear, and driving with Wesley scenes – were hilarious. And Robert Singer is second only to Kim Manners in what he can pull out of his actors in dramatic scenes where they are baring their souls; I loved the three quintessential brother scenes, with Sam and Dean in the bar in the beginning, with Sam’s silent but pointed commentary on Dean’s drinking; Sam waking Dean from his nightmare in the middle of the episode and trying to persuade him to share his feelings; and Dean admitting the truth to Sam but refusing to share the details in the episode’s closing moments. Singer’s crane shots (like the very end one) and his walk-and-talk shots (like the one where the boys seem about to leave the town as a dead end) are always a delight to watch.

I had to laugh at the discrepancy between the windshield wipers running in the “rain” on the green screen Impala set as the brothers drove Wesley back to the restaurant, matching the rain on the location where they filmed the naked boy in the aftermath of having been hit by the car, and the bright sunshine and bone-dry pavement as they pulled to a stop in that same scene to see Todd upending the SUV: given the unpredictable weather in Vancouver, I’m betting they were outfoxed by Mother Nature providing bright and sunny weather for the day they shot the footage of Todd and the SUV on location! (Did you notice the absence of the rearview mirror in the studio set car during the driving scene with Wesley in the back seat, and the presence of the rearview mirror in the location shot of them pulling to a stop when they saw Todd flipping the SUV? Welcome to Hollywood North magic – and to getting rid of a prop that would have blocked Ted Raimi’s face in the interior car scenes!)

Another scene that cracked me up despite its serious and disturbing underpinnings was the attempted suicide of the teddy bear. The show has conditioned us to expect a blood splatter when it pulls off a victim’s face just before the violence ensues; to have the usual gore-fest turn into a puff of fabric stuffing was hysterical! And to have that be matched at the end of the episode by the shot of the little teddy bear in the girl’s arms with stuffing leaking out around red tape was just the perfect touch. The expressions on the faces of the couple cast as the girl’s parents were also a treat; one has to wonder just exactly how their wish trip to Bali wound up being crocked. They certainly didn’t look happy!

I very much enjoyed Ted Raimi’s guest role as Wesley, and the way that the resolution of the story rested in Wesley realizing that he had to withdraw his wish if he wanted to be true to who and what he was, and to set things right not just with Hope, but with everyone. Supernatural is very much a show about human choice and human growth, and this episode personified that by placing the choice and the responsibility in the hands of a very ordinary man. The brothers showed him the way, but ultimately, he had to make his own decision – and so will they, every time it comes down to them.

Chris Lennertz has had fun this season scoring the humorous episodes, with musical cues for laughter that hark back to the pilot. I don’t have much more to say, except that every time I hear those chord progressions, I chuckle.

I’m going to sound like a broken record here, but Jensen Ackles and Jared Padalecki both own me with their performances this season. Jared has really come into his own with the comedy both in last season and this one (Bad Day At Black Rock, anyone?), and his depiction of Sam’s newfound maturity in trying to get Dean to open up about Hell and tell the truth about the reason for his nightmares and his alcohol dependence makes me want to hug him. Dean’s corresponding inability to reveal what he went through and his unwillingness to let Sam see it came to heartbreaking life through Jensen’s performance. And Jensen’s magic with kids came across loud and clear both in the scenes with the little girl and in Dean’s interaction with Todd, especially once Todd’s powers were gone but Dean pretended in their continued existence to protect him from the bullies. I really couldn’t imagine any other actors filling these two roles: they have made Dean and Sam their own.

I fully expect that in upcoming episodes we’re going to get the chance to see what each of the brothers has been hiding about what happened to them in the four months that we all spent apart. With this latest episode, the stage has finally been fully set for those revelations to occur; I’m betting that this week, the curtain will begin to be drawn back, and we’ll start to see the full shape of what transpired for both of the Winchester brothers.

I can’t wait.

Tags: ben edlund, christopher lennertz, dean winchester, episode commentaries, jared padalecki, jensen ackles, meta, robert singer, sam winchester, supernatural, supernatural university

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