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5.16 Dark Side of the Moon: How Are We In Heaven?

5.16 Dark Side of the Moon:  How Are We In Heaven?


Winchester Heaven:

Memories of times gone by

Teach lessons, kill faith.



Episode Summary


After a heavy drinking night, Dean woke to find two masked hunters holding Sam and him at gunpoint. Recognizing one of the hunters, Roy, from his voice and build and deducing the identity of his partner, Walt, Dean got them to unmask, but they weren’t distracted from their purpose: killing Sam for having started the apocalypse. Sam pleaded for the chance to explain, but Walt shot and killed him. Roy hesitated to shoot Dean, saying that killing Sam was right but Dean hadn’t done anything, but Walt insisted, not wanting Dean hunting them down for vengeance, and Dean – shocked, bitter, and furious – goaded them to shoot, warning that when he came back, he would be pissed. Roy continued to hesitate, so Walt fired.


Dean woke in the Impala on a deserted country road at night to the sound of thunder in the distance. Not quite remembering what had happened, he got out of the car, and saw excited, 13-year-old Sam carrying a box of fireworks from the trunk toward the field beside the road and exhorting him to come. Thinking it all a weird dream, Dean followed Sammy, finding in his pocket the once-prized lighter he hadn’t seen in years. As they started setting off the fireworks, Dean realized he remembered that day – July 4, 1996 – and once again experienced the delight he and Sam had shared in lighting up the meadow, something John would never have allowed had he known about it. Sam thanked him and hugged him out of happiness, and then lit up the night. For Dean, however, the joy transmuted to troubling flashes of memory of them being shot, and suddenly he was alone in the dark field. He called for Sam, but no one was there.


Walking back to the car and resting his arms on the roof, his thoughts were interrupted by Castiel’s voice coming over the car radio. When he told Castiel the angel needed to stay out of his dreams, Cass told him it wasn’t a dream, and that deep down he knew the truth. This time, Dean remembered all of it, and realized he was dead. Castiel told him he was in Heaven, and ignoring the question of how he had gotten there, warned him that the spell connection allowing them to talk was difficult to maintain. Dean asked where Sam was, and Castiel asked him what he could see, remarking that most people saw a tunnel or a river. Dean said all he could see was his dashboard because he was in his car on a road, and Castiel told him to follow the road because it would take him to Sam.


Following the road under an eerie sky unnaturally full of swirling stars, Dean came to a brightly lit house, and saw Sam, dressed in a shirt and tie, sharing Thanksgiving dinner with a normal family, sitting next to a young girl in braces with an obvious crush on him and politely answering questions from her father about his recent arrival at school and what his father did. Sam was surprised to see Dean in his dream, and even more surprised to learn they were in Heaven. Sam thought that Dean being there made sense, but wondered how he could be there, given the things he had done. When Dean observed that he’d thought he was doing the right thing, Sam noted that it wasn’t the road to Heaven that was paved with good intentions. All Dean could do was shrug and wonder where his preferred version of Heaven – sex with triplets – was. Looking back at the pretty domestic scene, which continued on exactly as if Sam were still there, Sam realized it was a happy memory of his first real, traditional Thanksgiving when he was eleven. When Dean protested that the Winchesters had Thanksgiving, Sam countered that their holiday had been a bucket of chicken and dad passed out on the couch, and Dean couldn’t contradict him. Dean shared that he’d also woken up to a memory – the two of them with the fireworks – and Sam, recalling that people said your life flashed before your eyes when you died, guessed maybe Heaven was a place where you relived your best memories.


Their conversation was interrupted by lights flickering and the earth trembling, things definitely not a part of Sam’s memory. As a white light began to sweep across the house, the brothers instinctively hid from it. When it passed, Dean went to the radio in the room and started calling for Castiel, explaining to Sam that Cass had spoken to him through a radio before and it was time for them to take the escalator back downstairs. This time, Castiel’s face appeared in warped and wavering black and white on the television set, warning them the bright light was Zachariah searching for them, since he had to return them to life in their bodies for them to be able to give consent to Lucifer and Michael. Sam considered that problem solved, but Castiel insisted they had a rare opportunity while in Heaven to seek out Joshua, the one angel rumored to speak with God. He told them to follow the Axis Mundi, the path that runs through Heaven to the garden at its center, which appeared to be different things to different people. He said their road was two-lane asphalt and they should hurry to follow it to the garden and Joshua, because Joshua could lead them to God. Knowing Dean’s anger at God and his absence of faith, Sam was surprised that Dean agreed to follow Cass’s instructions, but Dean simply said they were boned and referred to prayer as the last hope of a desperate man.


Walking out the front door of the house, they found a forest; the road had disappeared. Going back inside, Dean started opening room and closet doors at random, noting that finding a road inside a closet would be the most normal thing that could happen to them … and inside a closet, he found a little slot car racetrack set like the one he had as a little boy. Setting the car on the track and activating the control to put it in motion, he looked up and found they were in his room in the Winchester family home. Sam teased him for wearing a t-shirt proclaiming “I Wuv Hugs,” but was struck speechless when Mary opened the door, asking little Dean if he was hungry. Down in the kitchen, Sam watched as Mary prepared Dean a sandwich and cut off the crusts for him, but when Sam spoke to her, she didn’t react. Dean apologized, noting this was his dream, and when Sam said they should get going, Dean begged for just another minute, soaking up his mother’s touch and clinging to the memory. When the phone rang and Mary answered it, speaking angrily to John about him having two boys at home, Dean remembered that his parents had been fighting and John had moved out for a couple of days. Surprised, Sam recalled John always having said their marriage was perfect, but Dean said it had only been perfect after Mary died. When Sam asked what happened next, Dean, caught up in the memory, did what he had done as a child, walking to Mary and hugging her, telling her it was all right, that dad still loved her and he did too, and he would never leave her. She called him her little angel and with forced brightness turned away to get him pie. Reluctantly, Dean stepped out of the memory, and Sam quietly said he’d never realized how long Dean had been cleaning up their father’s messes.


Searching for the road again, Sam found it in the form of a Route 66 postcard he remembered, and suddenly they were in a cabin with postcards on the wall and a golden retriever ecstatically welcoming Sam. Sam delighted in remembering a time when he’d been free and living on his own for two weeks, and had a dog. Troubled and hurt by Sam’s pleasure in the memory, Dean said Sam had run away on his watch leaving Dean frantic, afraid Sam was dead, and Dean had borne the brunt of John’s anger when he came home to find Sam missing. Chastened, Sam apologized, saying he’d never thought of it that way. Upset, Dean walked out the door and Sam reluctantly followed, telling the dog to stay. The brothers were on a deserted street at night in front of a creepy house. Dean tried to figure out where they were, but Sam, uncomfortably recognizing the place while claiming not to, urged Dean just to follow the road. Dean realized they were in the night Sam left for Stanford, what he remembered as possibly the worst night of his life. He couldn’t imagine how it could be a happy memory for Sam, and Sam tried to explain that it was just getting away from John. Dean noted bitterly that John wasn’t the only one he got away from, and cut Sam’s awkward apology short, saying he understood Sam just hadn’t seen it that way. He was hurt that Sam’s idea of heaven was someone else’s Thanksgiving and bailing on his family. Sam observed that he’d never gotten the crusts cut off his sandwiches; that he didn’t look at family the way Dean did. Cut to the quick, Dean protested that he was Sam’s family, that they were supposed to be a team. Sam assured him that they were, but Dean questioned it. Before they could resolve anything, Zachariah’s searchlight caught them, and they took off together into the trees.  Zachariah changed night to day with a fingersnap, calling to them that he just wanted to send them home – although not before tearing them a cosmos of new ones. They ran, but Zachariah was waiting for them, taunting them. They fled again, and a figure costumed as a Mexican wrestler in cape and mask told them to be quiet and follow him. Scrawling a sigil on the door of an old shed, he led them inside … to Harvelle’s Roadhouse. Ripping off the costume, Ash welcomed them to his Heaven.


Ash explained that Heaven wasn’t a single place, but that each individual occupied his or her own personalized slice of Paradise. Zachariah had found them in Sam’s head, but Ash had brought them into his. He said that a very few people – special cases, soul mates – shared a Heaven, but most couldn’t leave their own little worlds. He’d figured it out and went visiting others. He’d found them by building his own scanner to monitor angelic conversations, and went looking for them when word came they were in Heaven. He said he’d found them before: that they’d been in Heaven already at other times when they died, but hadn’t been allowed to remember. He said he’d never been able to find John or Mary, and he didn’t know Jo and Ellen had died until Sam told him they were dead. He told them he did know someone who wanted to talk to them, and went through another sigil-marked door, bringing back Pamela Barnes.


While Sam watched Ash looking for a shortcut to the garden, Pamela told Dean that Heaven was a great place. Dean countered that spending eternity alone in memories would be lonely; not paradise, but the matrix. Pamela said she was happy and at peace. She asked what would happen if he said yes to Michael, and when he responded hotly that a lot of people would die, she countered that they would come to Heaven, asking what was so bad about that. She told him that maybe he didn’t have to fight so hard.


Ash found a shortcut to the garden and marked a door with a sigil for them to pass through, but warned them that Zachariah would be watching every route. Pamela hugged Sam and kissed Dean, and Ash told them he didn’t want to be a downer, but expected he’d see them again soon. He opened the door and they walked on through … back into the Winchester home. Not understanding why the shortcut didn’t work, Dean intended to start looking for the road again. Mary appeared asking what he was doing up, but when he refused to stay and talk with her, she changed. Telling him he couldn’t walk out on her, she started talking about her own nightmare the night she burned to death. She told Dean she never loved him, that he was her burden, something she was shackled to. Seeing Dean hurt, Sam said his name, trying to break her spell, and suddenly the light changed to a weird green and all the exits were bricked up. Mary painted a horrific picture of her death, indescribable pain and the incongruous smell of roasting meat, and her eyes flashed yellow; then she said the silver lining in her death was that she was away from Dean. She taunted him with the knowledge that everyone always left him, even Sam, and asked if he’d ever thought that it was because of him. She simpered, suddenly looking ugly and cruel, and Zachariah appeared and reined her in. Sam started forward, furious with what Zachariah had done, but other angels appeared and immobilized the brothers. Zachariah baited them, making sexual references to Mary, leaving Dean sickened and Sam angry. He dismissed Mary with a fingersnap and advanced on the boys. When Dean defied him, Zachariah punched him in the gut, ordering the angel to pull him up so he could do it again. He told them he’d once had power and respect, until they were assigned to him and his failure to get them to cooperate made him a laughingstock in Heaven. He promised to torment them whether they agreed to cooperate or not, saying Lucifer was powerful but he was petty and would stay on them forever.


His rant was interrupted by the appearance of another angel who politely insisted on talking to the Winchesters, saying he had orders from the boss. Noting that the boss would be back eventually, he pointed out to Zachariah that He would be wrathful if things weren’t to His liking, and Zachariah and his hench-angels vanished. The room was abruptly transformed into a conservatory – the Cleveland botanical gardens the brothers had visited once on a field trip – and the angel, Joshua, told them everyone saw in this place what they wanted to see. He explained that God talked to him, gardener to gardener, and said God had a message for the Winchesters: they should back off, because God already knew everything they wanted to say. He knew about the angels and the start of the apocalypse, but He didn’t think it was His problem. When they protested, Joshua said God had saved them already: He was the one who had put them on the plane, restored Castiel to life, and arranged for their salvation and presence in Heaven despite what they’d done. When they asked where God was, Joshua said He was on Earth, but that even with the amulet, they wouldn’t find Him. He agreed that God probably could stop the apocalypse, but wouldn’t, and when Dean asked why not, Joshua said that was like asking why He ever allowed evil in the first place. Seeing Dean’s crushing loss, he apologized, saying he knew how important this had been to Dean. When Dean responded with a ghost of his usual defiance, saying he was used to deadbeat dads with excuses and would just muddle through, Joshua gently observed that this time, he wasn’t sure he could; that he couldn’t kill the devil and he was losing faith in himself and his brother, and God had been his last hope. Joshua said he wished he could tell them something else, but he couldn’t; he said he was rooting for them and wished he could help, but could only trim the hedges. When Dean asked what happened next, Joshua told them they would go home, but this time, God wanted them to remember. He raised his hand and they were bathed in light.


They gasped awake lying in their blood on the beds where they’d been murdered. Dean called Castiel to let him know where they were even before they washed up and changed clothes, and while they packed the angel stood in stunned silence as he tried to process what Joshua had said. He tried to believe that Joshua was lying, but Sam said he didn’t think so. To their shock, Cass cursed God, calling Him a son of a bitch, and then he pulled the amulet out of his pocket and tossed it disdainfully back to Dean, saying he wouldn’t need it any more and calling it worthless. He walked toward the door and disappeared even before he reached it, ignoring Sam’s plea for him to wait. Summoning up his determination, Sam insisted they would find another way, telling Dean they could still stop all of this. When Dean, defeated, asked him how, Sam admitted he didn’t know, but staunchly said they would find it, the both of them together. Dean looked past him rather than at him and didn’t answer, picking up his duffel and walking to the door. At the door, he paused, letting the amulet dangle from his fingers; then he dropped it into the trash can and walked out to the car, leaving Sam behind him in the room watching him in pain.


Commentary and Meta Analysis


This episode hurt in so many good ways. It was brilliantly done and moved the characters into new territory. I’m certain many people will have issues with Supernatural’s Heaven and particularly with Supernatural’s God, given the events of this episode, but I think we’ve been shown an iceberg and only seen what’s on the surface, and I think Dean and Castiel in particular missed the most important parts. I believe Sam, on the other hand, was given insight he desperately needs to be able to take steps to save his brother and with him, the world. I do believe things are going to get significantly worse before they get better, but it’s like lancing a boil; sometimes you need to cut things open and let the pus out for the wound to heal cleanly. And I do believe things are going to get better. After they get worse.


In this discussion I’m going to explore possible implications of Sam and Dean’s sojourn in Heaven, discuss what they each took from the experience, examine faith, and contemplate Heaven and God.


This Is Your Idea Of Heaven?


Something that’s been missing from most of the episodes this season has been any acknowledgment and resolution of the still-festering existence of buried resentments and lingering guilt and mistrust left over from the rift between the brothers in season four. I’ve mentioned this in almost every episode review this season from Fallen Idols on, with the observation that while the brothers seemed to be trying to ignore the invisible elephant in the room in the hope that pretending everything was fine between them again would make it so, their failure to get all their issues out into the open made it impossible for them truly to get past them. I’ve been concerned that this failure to clear the air and come to full understanding would cripple them somewhere along the way, and I think we just saw that first domino fall. I’m betting more will topple in short order and the volcano will blow, but I’m also betting they’ll have built themselves a stable, fertile new island out of the lava flow by the time the eruption stops. And I think Sam is going to be the one to make it happen.


I’m also going to go out on a limb here and say I believe the brothers’ specific heavenly memories weren’t accidental or random, but also that they weren’t – well, except for the last grotesque one of Mary – devised or manipulated by Zachariah. I think God took the opportunity to send the brothers to Heaven for a purpose beyond telling them to back off, and I believe their ability freely to inhabit each other’s Heavens – something Ash noted was very rare and special, although the brothers failed to pick up on his reference to soul mates being aimed at them – was intentional and meaningful, as was the deliberate decision to let them remember their experience.


On the surface, seeing each other’s Heavens emphasized the differences between the brothers and seemed to drive them apart, but I think there was more going on and the ultimate purpose was to bring them together. I think the memories they found were meant to help force the confrontation they need to clear the air between them and truly start fresh with their brother bond both strengthened and renewed. And that’s why I don’t think Zachariah’s hand was behind the specific scenarios they saw. Let me explain, but understand this is going to take a little time. Be patient, okay?


Dean’s first vision – the one grown-up Sam didn’t see, but clearly remembered fondly when Dean mentioned it – now stands as one of my favorite Supernatural moments of all time. After a hesitant start, Dean became wholly caught up again in the memory of a joyous night when he made 13-year-old Sammy incandescently happy and knew absolutely and without any doubt his little brother loved and treasured him. Moments of such true, unfettered delight and happiness have been as rare in the show as they clearly were rare in Dean and Sam’s lives. Seeing their open smiles and the obvious love between them was heart-healing for a precious, priceless moment. I think reliving that was a gift to Dean and a powerful reminder that life wasn’t always duty and that Sam did acknowledge and value Dean’s brother-love, even though such candid demonstrations vanished as the brothers grew older. Unfortunately, it passed too quickly and was overshadowed by the later views that made Dean bitter, resentful, and defeated, but I believe he’s meant to remember it in joy and trust and eventually will.


The first dream-vision where Dean found Sam played up the differences in their viewpoints as the show has often done before in such episodes as Bugs, Nightmare and A Very Supernatural Christmas, showing us the brothers’ very different memories and interpretations of the same events. This time, it was Thanksgiving, a holiday we hadn’t seen in the show before. For Dean, Thanksgiving was simply a day together with his father and brother, something that always made him content. For Sam, the painfully obvious difference between a traditional, happy family Thanksgiving dinner and just another average day in the Winchesters’ warped household just made him more unhappy and fueled his discontent.


That vision set the stage for the brothers’ differences in familiar terms they both already knew, but I think it also was the first of the very deliberate set-pieces designed to force the brothers finally to confront their feelings and begin the slow and painful process of coming to grips with them through understanding.


Seeing Dean with their mother initially made Sam uncomfortable and a little resentful and envious of Dean because Sam never had had the chance to know their mother or experience and remember her love. Sam was hurt at being excluded from the closeness between Dean and Mary, and wanted to avoid the pain by leaving quickly. That changed, however, when Dean’s memory abruptly became something less idyllic, bringing to light the marital strife Dean had buried and Sam had never known existed, and demonstrating graphically from the way he clung to the memory of Mary’s touch not only how starved grown-up Dean has been for family love and validation, but also how very early in life he became the family peacemaker, the one who tried to make things right and hold them all together. Sam’s personal unhappiness and sense of childhood deprivation transmuted into something else: compassion for his brother and sorrow for his burdens.


Unlike the perfect fireworks night with Sammy, the less-than-entirely-happy memory of his parents fighting and his resulting little-boy fear that his home and family might be falling apart seemed an odd choice for Dean to relive as a reward in Heaven – unless the memory wasn’t really meant for him, but for Sam, to show Sam something he needed to understand. We had learned from Sam’s reactions to the shapeshifter’s revelations in Skin, Dean’s confession in season one’s Shadow, and the demon’s taunting of Dean in Devil’s Trap that Sam had never really understood while growing up how desperately dependent on family Dean truly was; it wasn’t until he was hunting with Dean as an adult that he finally figured out the truth at Dean’s core. Through Heaven, he now learned that had been part of Dean even before Azazel ripped their lives apart. Once again, as happened in such episodes as Home and Something Wicked, Sam learned something new and revealing about Dean – and this time, also about their parents – from seeing childhood events through adult eyes. And because Sam has grown more mature and truly loves his brother, what he learned had an impact and made him think.


The brothers’ shared perception of Sam’s memory of his two happy weeks of runaway freedom in Flagstaff accomplished something else:  it prompted Sam for the first time actually to see a specifically remembered childhood situation from Dean’s very different perspective and appreciate that he’d never understood or even taken the time to think about how Dean felt. In his rebellion against John, Sam hadn’t meant to hurt Dean, but he also hadn’t stopped to think either then or later about the effect his running away would have on his brother. Learning that Dean had searched desperately for him and feared he was dead, and had taken the brunt of John’s anger for having let him run away, opened Sam’s eyes. This time, Sam saw and felt not just Dean’s anger and resentment, which would in earlier days just have sparked his own automatic defensive anger back, but also Dean’s bewildered pain at how Sam could possibly cherish a memory that had been so frightening and painful for Dean.


Dean shut down again, curtly dismissing Sam’s apology, but it was the realization of Dean’s real underlying hurt that made Sam disavow knowledge of the next memory they walked into. Newly sensitized to the rawness of Dean’s family wounds by Dean’s reaction to the Flagstaff memory and understanding as never before how deep this one would cut, Sam wanted to escape before Dean made the connection to the night Sam had left for Stanford. He didn’t want Dean to remember because he knew Dean would be hurt. When the tumblers clicked into place and the memory locks opened, Sam tried to explain that it was his escape from John’s demands and expectations that made his independence sweet, but all Dean could see was that Sam’s idea of Heaven had no place for him. Dean’s very first Heaven memory was making Sam happy and reveling in Sam’s joy; Sam’s Heaven memories didn’t include Dean at all. Based on what Dean saw, the single most important person in his life apparently didn’t feel remotely the same way about him. Sam’s protest that he was family and they were a team rang hollow compared to the evidence of Dean’s eyes, which told him repeatedly both that Sam was happier apart from him than when they were together and that Sam hadn’t cared about him enough even to give any thought to his feelings when Sam went his own way.


Before you dismiss either me or Dean for Sam-bashing, please note that I’m talking only about what Dean perceived based on what Heaven presented, which was additionally colored by his memories of their bitter estrangement and his resulting loss of trust in Sam in season four. But things aren’t necessarily as they appear to be.


I doubt that the night of Sam’s flight to Stanford was any more an unalloyed good and happy memory for him than their parents fighting was for Dean. Making that choice had to have been hard and painful, and walking away must have involved doubt, loss, and fear as well as anger, resolve, hope, and anticipation. I’m also certain that Sam’s full Heaven would contain a lot of happy memories of time spent alone with Dean, including more than just that fireworks night, so Heaven’s curious selection of Sam-memories that both excluded Dean and involved situations that hurt him badly struck me as targeted and deliberate.


If you look at the devastating effect of those memories on Dean – perfect joy followed by a sequence of gut punches, crowned by discovering he wasn’t even present in Sam’s idea of Heaven – you could see Zachariah’s petty and vindictive hand seeking to break Dean’s spirit as well as his resistance to Michael. But looking at their effect on Sam, I saw something entirely different. I saw the opening of a window of understanding that Sam might never have found if he hadn’t realized through this experience of Heaven that the one thing Dean truly couldn’t accept and spiritually survive was the thought that Sam, of all people – the brother he loved, raised, and literally died for, the last and closest piece of his family – didn’t really love, want, or need him.


Sam has often seen Dean’s family-defensive anger, but I don’t think he realized until now that the core of it wasn’t simply older-brother disapproval or resentment of Sam deserting his family to do his own thing while Dean shouldered the burden of duty, but fear that Sam’s choices meant Dean didn’t really matter to him and the brother-love he’d always thought the comforting mirror of his own wasn’t actually real at all. In hiding things from Dean and lying to him, starting with his visions in season one and running through his demon blood addiction in season four, I believe Sam was always unconsciously projecting his own fears onto Dean, mistakenly thinking Dean might believe him a freak or a monster, be unable to understand and accept his decisions, and stop loving him if he knew the truth. I think Sam still doesn’t understand his tendency to do that, but I also believe that through hearing Dean’s interpretation of what he saw in Heaven, Sam finally realized that Dean has been doing the exact same thing, reading into Sam’s actions not what was truly there, but his own deepest fears of being unworthy, unloved, and abandoned.


In the aftermath of learning how he’d been duped by Ruby and manipulated into freeing Lucifer, Sam apologized for a lot of things and felt genuine horror and remorse for his actions and their consequences, but he kept missing the point that the things he was apologizing for weren’t the things that mattered to Dean. Dean never blamed Sam for killing Lilith or breaking the final seal. He never blamed Sam for the apocalypse, particularly since he himself had broken the first seal. He didn’t blame Sam for his demon blood addiction. What rankled was Sam lying to him, shutting him out, and willfully leaving him for a demon while telling him not only that he was weak, but that he never really knew Sam and never would. That’s the wound in Dean that’s never healed; that’s the piece of broken trust that hasn’t yet been mended, because both of the brothers needed to understand how that link was broken before they could see the way to reforge it.


I think one of the best things about what happened to the brothers in Heaven is that Sam finally got to see that essential truth. It took Dean being further broken to openly reveal it, but at least Sam now knows where to start: showing Dean by steadfast and stubborn example that, no matter what, he is loved and they are a team.


I Know How Important This Was To You, Dean; I’m Sorry


Another crucial piece of the brothers’ visit to Heaven came through the things that Joshua said to Dean – and again, I think those were meant not for Dean, but for Sam, to show him the way. Dean didn’t need to be told that Joshua’s message from God was devastating for him; he already knew it meant there was no last-ditch divine safety net to stop his emotional fall. When Dean summoned up the fading ghost of his bravado and said he’d muddle through the way he always did, he didn’t need Joshua telling him that this time, he didn’t know if he could. He didn’t need to be told of the true depth of his despair, that he couldn’t kill the devil, that he was losing faith in himself and his brother, that God had been his last hope. Dean didn’t need to hear that – but I think Sam did. The realization on Sam’s face as he listened to Joshua and saw the truth of every word register in Dean’s slumped shoulders and defeated silence was profound.


Dean has always soldiered on. It’s part of who he is. It’s what Sam has grown up to expect. Never give up, never surrender. It’s a strength Sam relied on. The absence of that spirit was what scared and angered Sam the most during season three, when Dean refused to fight for his own life by looking for a way to escape the crossroads deal. Even then, however, Dean was still fighting – he was just fighting to prevent Sam from endangering his own life, since the terms of the deal meant Sam’s life would be forfeit if Dean tried to break the contract.


Over the years, Sam saw Dean starting to stagger under the load, almost breaking during Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things and Crossroad Blues in his guilt over John selling his soul to save him; not wanting to continue living when he thought he might have to kill Sam in Croatoan; overwhelmed with guilt and loathing in Heaven and Hell and Family Remains for what he had become and done in Hell; crushed by his culpability for the apocalypse in On The Head Of A Pin; and burdened with loss and growing despair throughout this season as friends were crippled and died while he could do nothing. More than once, Dean said he was tired, that he was done, that he had nothing more to give – but every time, he dug further down and found something more to sacrifice.


What Joshua’s gentle words made devastatingly clear was that this time, Dean’s well of self-reliance may truly be tapped out. Sam never saw Dean pray in The Monster At The End Of This Book and My Bloody Valentine; he never knew that in those moments, Dean had admitted himself lost and begged for help from a God in whom he didn’t even truly believe. He didn’t see the absolute depth of Dean’s despair in the aftermath of their encounter with Famine. Sam didn’t realize how truly and personally Dean meant the words when he referred to prayer being the last hope of a desperate man. With this latest loss of hope, Dean has nothing left.


Except Sam.


Throughout the series, the brothers have switched roles and alternated leads. When one faltered, the other surged; when one slipped, the other held on. In the garden with Joshua and again in the motel room after being returned to Earth, Sam stepped up to be the voice of determination, saying the things Dean used to say, insisting on believing there had to be a way to fight and win, trying to rally the troops and rebuild the walls of spirit. This time, as Dean lost faith, Sam reclaimed it: the reverse of their roles in Houses Of The Holy.


I believe it’s Sam’s turn to take the lead, to be the one holding strong for them both. And I think the greater understanding of his brother that Sam learned in Heaven will begin to give him the stubborn resolution he needs to break through Dean’s defeat and restore his faith not in God, but in the simple heaven on Earth he always had:  family and the certainty of his brother’s love.


And yes:  I do believe Sam fished the amulet out of the trash on his way out of the room. He may rationalize that it might yet come in handy despite what Joshua said, but he and we all know the truth:  that amulet is still the tangible symbol of two brothers’ unity and love, and I believe Sam will fight to prove that truth to Dean and see it rest again above his brother’s heart.


God Saved You Already


In their disillusion and disbelief over hearing Joshua say God wouldn’t stop the apocalypse, that He didn’t think it was His problem, both Dean and Castiel lost faith. Dean’s faith in God had been tenuous at best, born only of his desperate need to believe he could find a way to avert the end of the world, but his faith in family had been as central to his existence as Castiel’s faith in God had been to the angel. For both of them, faith and love have been the defining reasons for everything they’ve done. They had both believed: Dean especially in himself and his brother, Castiel in the benevolence and purpose of his Father Creator. Being told God wouldn’t help further and wouldn’t be found – and that on top of Dean thinking he’d been shown Sam didn’t truly love him, and Castiel being exiled from Heaven – cut them both adrift.


But in their focus on God’s refusal to solve the apocalypse for them, I think both Dean and Castiel missed the much bigger point of what Joshua said. God saved you already. He put you on that plane. He brought back Castiel. He granted you salvation in Heaven, and after everything you’ve done, too. It’s more than He’s intervened in a long time.


God hadn’t abandoned them. Against the brothers’ individual expectations – although significantly, not against their expectations for each other, since each initially lovingly accepted and unquestioningly believed the other belonged in Heaven – God had rewarded them with Heaven and salvation, and according to Ash, He’d done it more than once since he’d found both of them in Heaven before. God had saved them from Lucifer once and brought Castiel back to life. He had directly intervened in events on Earth specifically to help the brothers. And God was on Earth now.


Those things went past Castiel and Dean without making an impression. They heard only the present refusal and ignored the setup for it. I think the only one who began to grasp the ramifications was Sam, and that was mostly because up until then, he had feared and believed that he was beyond redemption, damned by the demon blood and the choices that led him, however unintentionally, to free Lucifer. Of the brothers, he had been the only one who once had genuine faith in God and an earnest hope of Heaven. Learning that there truly was forgiveness and salvation in Heaven even for him, who despite his honest contrition thought himself the worst and most irredeemable of sinners, restored something of the faith he had once professed.


Faith in God isn’t meant to substitute for human action. It isn’t reasonable to assume that food will simply come to your hand if all you do is trust in God, sit on your ass, and wait. It’s incumbent on us to do the things we need to do to live ourselves and help each other. Faith has to take action in order to have meaning. And as Layla observed all the way back in season one’s Faith, you can’t claim faith only when the miracles happen; you need to have it when they don’t.


The Lord helps those who help themselves; that’s the aphorism I think will come to Sam’s mind now. Joshua showed them God had helped them when it was absolutely necessary; the miracles were there for them to see. Being told the rest of it is up to them isn’t abandonment, but a sign that they have what they need within themselves and their allies, if only they have faith and keep striving. Children never grow up if their parents do everything for them; in the same way, I think angels and humans couldn’t develop into responsible adult beings if their choices had no meaning and God swooped in to make everything right.


 As Dean tried to preserve Sam’s faith in God for him when it was shaken in such episodes as It’s The Great Pumpkin, Sam Winchester, even though he had no faith of his own in the divine, I believe now it’s Sam’s turn to restore Dean’s faith in himself and their bond, and to soldier on with him, together, to find the way to save the world. And that won’t be by saying yes to Michael and Lucifer unless the human brothers stay in control.


Production Notes


In other episode reviews, I’ve taken Andrew Dabb and Daniel Loflin to task multiple times for characterization, tonal, and plot problems, and identified them as my least favorite writers in the Supernatural stable. After Dark Side Of The Moon, however, I have to say that if they can keep up this caliber of writing, they’ll be on the express elevator to the penthouse suite in no time. This was stellar in terms of both concept and execution, with wonderful dialogue. And in retrospect, I had to laugh about Walt and Roy being the hunters who sent the boys into their afterlife, given that those Disney brothers built the Magic Kingdom that provided Ash his analogy for Heaven!


Director Jeff Woolnough is new to Supernatural, but has many genre and mainstream credits including Battlestar Galactica, CSI, and several episodes of Dark Angel, notably including Designate This, the episode that introduced Jensen’s character Alec. Woolnough has a website here: I mostly loved what he did here. The opening establishing shot in the motel tracking across the empty, crumpled beer cans and fallen whiskey bottle to end on Dean sprawled across the bed fully dressed showed us without words just how totally wrecked Dean was – not surprising, given that this episode was originally intended to have aired immediately after the despair of My Bloody Valentine – and also explained how Roy and Walt got the drop on the brothers, since there were a few empty cans above Sam’s bed, too, and he also had crashed fully dressed. Nice visual storytelling there. The repeat of that identical shot to bring us and the brothers back to their dead bodies at the end was a thing of beauty. His transitions between Heavens were grand; I especially liked the slot car raceway jump from the closet to Dean’s bedroom, the postcard lead-in to Flagstaff, the entry into Ash’s Roadhouse, and the transformation of the green-lit Winchester house into the conservatory garden. And the entire fireworks scene with present Dean and young Sam was sheer perfection, full of rich images and heartfelt emotion that didn’t slip over the line into schmaltz.


Woolnough’s extreme close-ups, while reminiscent of Kim Manners’ technique, weren’t as smooth and tight. Faces sometimes slipped oddly out of frame, especially in the highly animated conversation between Ash and the brothers over beer in the bar. It worked in a way:  it added a sense of unreality, imbalance, and looming threat behind the dialogue, and reinforced the idea that all of this was happening inside the characters’ heads, but the camera motion and the skewed framing particularly in that one bar scene were a bit distracting, too.


Director of photography Serge Ladouceur did brilliant work in this episode. The practical lighting in the fireworks scene was beautiful. The warmth and softness of the light in the Winchester house the first time around, especially when Mary opened the door to Dean’s bedroom, emphasized Mary’s beauty and showcased the initial happiness of the scene, while the darker, harsher light in the Flagstaff cabin and Stanford fight night scenes played up the bitter side of those memories for Dean. And the lighting in the second Winchester house scene – the one featuring Zachariah – was positively nightmarish even before the moment it all turned electric green and painted Mary into something warped and demonic. The contrast between that and the natural light on gentle, diffident Joshua immediately defined the difference between the two angels. Bravo!


All the actors nailed it. Colin Ford is a treasure as young Sam; his delight was palpable and real, and his joy was contagious. Samantha Smith, as she did in When The Levee Breaks, played both mother Mary and manipulator Mary with equal power. I especially loved her reaction to Dean’s attempt to make things right:  the look on her face as she called him her little angel and then smiled too brightly and falsely as she offered him pie, trying to distract him and not to cry, was heartbreakingly genuine. Kurt Fuller reveled in Zachariah getting the opportunity to pay back the brothers, especially Dean, for all his humiliation. Roger Aaron Brown struck just the right note as Joshua, compassionate but forceful, gentle but strong. Brown’s Joshua and Misha Collins’ Castiel represent the best of the angels, even if Cass is experiencing a crisis of faith. The empty desolation in Cass’s face at the end was great work by Misha.


And then there’s Chad Lindberg’s Ash. Ash in the afterlife was still so perfectly and totally Ash that he brought the entire Roadhouse back to vibrant life with him. I loved the idea of Ash employing string theory to master communication and translocation in Heaven and serving as the boys’ psychopomp, their translator and guide through the afterlife. The animation, energy, and vividness that Chad always brings to Ash made him a favorite of mine, and seeing him again was transcendent joy.


Traci Dinwiddie’s Pamela was the only one who felt a little off, but that wasn’t due at all to her performance. My one quibble with Dabb and Loflin’s script is that, while Pamela’s forgiveness of the brothers and contentment with one long concert afterlife rang true, her proselytizing for Dean to give in to Michael didn’t. I know that in order to give Dean a nudge toward having an acceptable reason to consider accepting Michael, someone had to make the pitch that maybe giving in to the apocalypse wouldn’t be so bad if indeed everyone who died would enjoy themselves more in Heaven than on Earth, but that speech just didn’t seem right coming from the mouth of so earthy and vital a woman as Pamela, and one who moreover had massive issues with angels while she was alive.


Best of all were Jensen Ackles and Jared Padalecki. What I loved most from both of them in this episode weren’t just the big emoting scenes, both happy and sad, that hit me in the heart, but the little touches: Jensen’s Dean going dead still looking at his brother’s corpse, shock and grief and disbelief and denial all winding up in bitter hate aimed at his killers; Dean-become-child leaning into his mother’s touch and yearning after it when she ruffled his hair, and then walking to her with little-boy steps, putting his arms around her as if he were small, and speaking in his grown-up voice but with little-boy inflections; Dean’s face in the garden at the end going empty as Joshua hammered home the completeness of his loss; the calculation in suspending the amulet over the waste basket before letting it fall. For Jared, there were many subtle bits of realization, compassion, and concern that played across his face each time Sam understood and worried about Dean, and I loved the little hint of a smile that spoke of a good memory when Joshua mentioned that the brothers had visited the botanical gardens on a field trip once. The look on his face when he realized what Dean was going to do with the amulet was grief and denial and pleading all at once. And while Dean was too cast down to believe it, Sam’s insistence that they were a team, that they were brothers, and that they would figure something out together definitely wasn’t an empty pep talk; it was passionate truth even though Sam didn’t know what to do next.


The music was another high point. The use of Bob Dylan’s “Knocking On Heaven’s Door” was so perfectly appropriate not only for Dean waking up in Heaven, but for the way it instantly called back the end of Houses Of The Holy and anticipated the parallel between the brothers’ respective loss and discovery of faith. Jay Gruska’s original underscore had me tearing up when it brought back his “Dean’s Family” theme in the scene where Dean tried to reassure his mother.


The infinity of solipsistic Heavens described by Ash in which each of us lives isolated in our own little perfect world of memory struck me much the way it did Dean: lonely and without reality. While it can be true that Hell is other people, as a character in Jean-Paul Sartre’s play No Exit proclaimed, I think it’s also true that Heaven can be other people, if they see us through the eyes of love. Sartre once wrote that his famous line had often been misunderstood to imply that all of our relations with other people are poisoned and hellish, when what he meant was that if our relationship with someone was twisted and vitiated – as were the relationships between the three characters of the play, whom Sartre trapped in a small room for eternity – then that person could only be Hell for us, because when we think about ourselves, we use the knowledge of us which other people already have. Sartre observed that we judge ourselves with the means other people have and have given us for judging ourselves. My point is that if those things are negative, we are diminished. But if they are positive, if they are love, then we bloom. We are in Heaven.


Ash noted that a very few people shared their Heavens. The brothers didn’t grasp that this was true of them, but I think it spoke to the essential truth that they are each other’s mirror, each other’s measuring yardstick, each other’s judge, making them each judge themselves according to what they think the other sees. They are and can be each other’s Heaven, or each other’s Hell. The difference between the two is having faith in themselves and in each other. That faith has taken a beating, but I believe it can and will be restored.


And if they can do that, why not have faith they can stop the apocalypse too?



Tags: dean winchester, episode commentaries, jared padalecki, jensen ackles, meta, philosophy, psychology, sam winchester, supernatural, supernatural university, theology

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