Supernatural enjoys playing with the concepts of fate and free will, and uses both of them to tease viewers mercilessly. Like series creator Eric Kripke, who has said he knows what happens in the final story of the series (something we all devoutly wish will be years in the future!), The Demon, we are told, has plans for Sammy and the children like him. We don’t know the nature of those plans, but given the nature of demons, it can’t be good. What does this mean for Sam and the other children, and for people like Dean, John, and all of us, who apparently aren’t part of the plan? Only Eric Kripke knows for sure, but we can have some fun speculating.
So, what’s my thesis for this class at
Any discussion of fate and free will needs to start with a common definition of the concepts, so here goes. From its Latin origin, fatum, “fate” literally means “that which has been spoken,” which carries the sense of a sentence or doom of the gods. Fate is the principle by which, according to certain philosophical belief systems, all events, or some events in particular, are unalterably predetermined from eternity. These events are foreordained, inevitable, and unavoidable, impossible to affect by choice or action. Your fate will find you, no matter what you do. Your fate is your wyrd, that which you cannot escape. A favorite fate story has a man seeing Death one day on the street in a town, and heading immediately to a different part of the country to escape him, only to have Death appear there and say, “I knew we had an appointment here today, so I wondered at it, when I glimpsed you across the country yesterday.” Fate happens, and nothing you do or say can alter it; that’s the concept.
Fate is very attractive to the human mind, in part because it does encompass one ineluctable truth: each one of us is someday going to die, and while we may escape any number of possible occasions of death along the way – accidents, illnesses, natural disasters, human evil – sooner or later, we each will die. That ultimate inevitability whispers seductively that fate does exist, and we often want to listen.
We want to listen because fate makes things easy. It tells us that some things, at least, are totally out of our hands, and that we’re justified in not fighting them because that fight would be meaningless and futile. Fate tells us that what happens to us isn’t our fault. Fate puts the burden of decision on the force or principle that defined what will be, and argues that we’re just playing the parts we were assigned. Fate removes personal responsibility from the equation.
Free will, on the other hand, is defined as the power of directing our own actions without the constraint of necessity or fate. We choose, and by our choices define the path of our lives. Western religious thought revolves around the concept of free will, and posits that humans were created with the ability to choose between good and evil and determine for ourselves that which would define our being. Free will carries with it an individual’s responsibility for the actions taken and choices made.
In the universe of Supernatural, we have a group of children, including sweet Sammy, who somehow have powers and abilities beyond the norm. Many if apparently not all of them (judging by Anson Weems/Webber in Simon Said) were visited by The Demon on their six month birthday, and lost their nurturing mothers to fires set by The Demon. Some of them, at least, have turned to evil and killed others: witness Max from Nightmare and Anson/Webber in Simon Said. According to The Demon, speaking through John’s body in Devil’s Trap, he has plans for Sammy and the others like him, and he killed Sam’s mother and girlfriend because they got in the way of those plans. Sam understandably wonders what this means for him, and has questioned whether he is doomed – fated – to become a killer, and evil.
My belief would be that fate doesn’t play into this at all. Whatever the source of these paranormal abilities may be – did Sam inherit them from Mary? Is that part of John’s secret, and why Mary’s spirit apologized to Sam way back in Home? Am I theorizing entirely too much about this show? – I believe that the abilities themselves don’t contain a destiny. I suspect that The Demon’s plans involve getting the children to choose evil, in order for evil to make use of their gifts, but I would also posit that the choice would have to be their own. Something suggests to me that if the decision isn’t their own exercise of free will, it doesn’t count toward the score in whatever game The Demon’s playing. A choice that isn’t a choice – an action forced by a demon possessing one of the children and directly using his or her abilities, for example – somehow either wouldn’t be valid, or simply wouldn’t be possible. Let me explain.
The Demon and his ilk clearly can try to influence a choice, and judging from Sam’s circumstance, have been doing exactly that. The Demon deprived Sam of his mother, taking away all the force of good that Mary could have been: nurturer, confidant, teacher, abiding source of stability and love. The Demon took Jess, with whom Sam was building a life and who would have been many of the same things as Mary, but as a partner to Sam rather than a parent. The Demon created conditions of instability and induced the blindness of rage to color Sam’s choices. In Simon Said, Sam asked whether he and the others were being pushed into becoming killers, and he’s clearly wondering if he, too, will react the way The Demon wants and fall into his fate.
Why play the influence game rather than simply exerting possession? What we’ve seen in multiple episodes suggests that anyone can be possessed. In Phantom Traveler, the boys discussed anger and fear as weaknesses allowing demons to invade and take over people. The Demon possessing as experienced a hunter as John and using him to attack his sons in Devil’s Trap implies that possession is nearly irresistible, no matter the awareness or force of will of the individual. So if the point of the exercise is to gain the abilities of Sam and the others like him and use them in the interest of evil, why not simply possess them and have done? What do they have, that demons do not?
I would say, free will. Dean observed in The Benders that demons and the boys’ other “usual playmates” had to operate under rules that made them predictable, while people could do anything. “Demons, I get; people are crazy.” In Cross Road Blues, we again heard the concept that demons have to operate within systems of rules; for the crossroads demon, that meant having to keep her end of a bargain. We don’t know what all the rules are, but they clearly do exist; why can demons not cross a threshold barred with salt? Demons seem constrained in their choices by immutable rules, while people are not. If demons could persuade people to act on their behalf, the rules would cease to limit them, because they don’t apply to people.
So my guess is that fate plays no role, but the brothers’ choices will – and the key will be denying the choice that The Demon wants made. What that is, I don’t know; but I think that Sam and the children like him are at the least exempt from possession, to leave them free to make the choice.
Of course, on one level, this entire dissertation fails, and fate prevails. The truth is that the Supernatural universe actually does have a guiding principle of fate, and I spoke it in the second sentence of this blog: Eric Kripke already knows how the entire story ends. Thus, for both Sam and Dean, the future has already been spoken, and they will face the doom decreed by their private god, whose name is Kripke – also known as Fate. And all our speculations and free will come to naught!