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28 January 2007 @ 06:05 pm
Supernatural University: The Long Arm of the Law  

Welcome to class! This seminar analyzes the non-supernatural problems confronting the brothers Winchester. My thesis for this session is that Dean was absolutely correct in his succinct summation at the end of Nightshifter:  “We are so screwed.”

 

The most important thing to note is that what could happen someday in court is the least of the brothers’ worries. Far more vital and immediate is that they are the targets of a hunt being conducted by forces with resources that far outstrip their own, and these forces – precisely because they have ample reason to consider the boys to be deadly dangerous – will be more concerned with safeguarding themselves than with either making certain that all the evidence they find makes logical sense or apprehending the boys alive and intact. The nature of the circumstances around them will predispose police and federal agents to shoot first and ask questions later, and that is not unreasonable.

 

Look at the Winchesters through police eyes and understand how police have to think. “Innocent until proven guilty” is the justice mantra in the U.S., but that’s not where an investigating officer begins. A cop starts with a crime, with the breaking of a law, and with whatever evidence the scene and circumstances of the crime can contribute, including physical evidence, indications of motive or opportunity, and whatever witnesses might have reported. The trail is seldom as neat as television shows would have us believe, however. Physical evidence is usually incomplete. Odd things about a scene or a person often lack explanation, and could be relevant or not. Eyewitness testimony is notoriously unreliable, especially in high stress situations, because most people are not good observers and every witness colors what he or she sees through the filters of his or her own mind and memory. Most times, we see what we expect to see, and often reject or fail to process things that contravene our expectations. People who don’t act the way we expect them to make us uneasy and attract suspicion, and cops are trained to look for out of pattern behavior as a way to spot someone out of place who might be a criminal.

 

The Winchesters first came to police attention the night that Mary died. We know from John’s journal on the show website and from both aired and deleted scenes in Home that the fire’s origin couldn’t be well pinned down or explained, and that John’s memories were things that even he thought were insane. What he had seen was horrific and made no rational sense, but he couldn’t put it aside. Instead, he became convinced that something outside normality had to be responsible, and Missouri helped him to understand that he was right and not mad. From his journal, we know that the police continued to question him and didn’t resolve the issue. From the unaired scenes in Home, we learned that John sold his half of the garage business and bought guns, and that he took his sons and dropped off the radar when his former business partner called social services. If he hadn’t fled, John might well have lost custody of his boys, but by taking them and going to ground, he left an open file behind. There wasn’t enough for cops to cry the hunt then – no real evidence that John might have killed his wife or was actually endangering his sons – but it put up a question mark that would attract later eyes.

 

We learned from the pilot and multiple other episodes, including Something Wicked, that John kept the boys on the move while he learned to become a hunter, and that they grew up largely on the road in motels, cabins, and with other hunters, such as Pastor Jim Murphy. With no job or business for income, John turned to hustling and credit card fraud to get the money to keep himself and his boys fed, clothed, under shelter, armed, and in the car, and he taught them the same skills. Judging from references to Dean’s and John’s police records mentioned in The Usual Suspects, there were at least a few times when they got caught at it, at least for misdemeanor offenses, and where their real names were known.

 

And no matter how carefully someone may try to stay off the grid, we all leave trails behind. The Winchesters left less of a trail than most, since their incomes doubtless never reached taxable levels and their electronic credit and purchase records were under false names, but a dedicated search could have found patterns. Depending on how they acquired the names for the fake credit cards, those could have been traced – for example, if multiple names came from a single source, or if the names were consistently acquired the same way (e.g., records searches for children who died in infancy, but for whom birth certificates could be obtained). Judging from Sam’s ability to earn a free ride to college at Stanford, his education records had to be in his own proper name, no matter what name John had been using to pay the bills.

 

The boys didn’t register seriously with the cops until the events of Skin in St. Louis. When Dean killed the shapeshifter wearing a copy of his body, he didn’t wait around to try to explain things to the cops, and in all likelihood, he couldn’t have done so. The law is eminently practical, and doesn’t allow for or consider supernatural explanations for real consequences. Two Dean Winchesters in the same room, one dead at the other’s hands, but both with the same fingerprints (which even twins do NOT share), would have set up a conundrum that still wouldn’t have been resolved a year later. Who knows what a DNA comparison would have shown? Not knowing how the shapeshifter accomplished anything that it did, we have no answers, and the boys couldn’t afford to take the chance that Dean wouldn’t have been charged with murder for the death of his unexplainable doppelganger, or been tasked with explaining in rational, non-supernatural terms how there could be two of him. No: Dean’s best option was simply to play dead, and making that choice seemed easy, given that Dean was already flying below the radar and using fake identities.

 

We still don’t know exactly what story explained “Dean” dead of silver bullets to the heart in Becky’s house. All we know is that the cops did discover the lair in the sewer, with the various men’s clothing – including Zach’s –  and the “trophies” from the several crime scenes, and that they recognized the “Dean” corpse as the man who had escaped the S.W.A.T. team after the first assault on Becky. Cops employ Occam’s Razor all the time – accepting that the simplest and most likely explanation that appears to cover the facts is probably the correct one – and don’t seek to add complexity where they appear to have already found a plausible answer. I would guess that Becky, under protest but grateful to the boys to be alive and wanting to see her brother cleared, had claimed that “Dean” had come back to finish the job on her, and that she somehow managed to get his gun away from him and shot him in self-defense. From a police perspective, that would have appeared logical and reasonable and tied things up neatly – and never mind trying to find additional explanations for the weird details, such as the decaying piles of shed skin in the lair, or precisely how “Dean” had tampered with security camera footage, or why his gun had been loaded with silver bullets, or why the carpet in the room had blood (Sam’s) that didn’t match either Becky or “Dean.” With a dead perpetrator, ample physical evidence, and a logical explanation, the case could be closed. And cops wouldn’t have bothered with DNA analysis, given the cost of it, the relatively small database of existing criminal DNA, and the suspect being dead with a face and fingerprints for identification.

 

And then came the events of The Usual Suspects. Dean was arrested at the scene of Karen Giles’s murder in Baltimore, and the routine wants and warrants check on his fingerprints turned up not only the record of his past petty offenses and reports of other suspected transgressions, but the confirmation that “Dean Winchester” was dead and buried in St. Louis, where he had been the leading suspect in a string of brutal assaults and at least one murder. And that, I would posit, is where the excrement hit the rotational air circulation device. Diana, the lady cop in Baltimore who let the boys walk after The Usual Suspects, doubtless did follow through on clearing Dean’s name for the Giles murders, but that wouldn’t have done anything about the St. Louis situation. And the crossing of state lines would have brought the FBI into the mix.

 

Cops would never leap to the conclusion that supernatural influences were at work. No: the more likely explanation would have been that the still-living Dean really was the St. Louis killer, and had found a way to escape being caught by killing someone else who looked like him, and tampering with the police records to replace the dead man’s fingerprints with his own. We know that the authorities in St. Louis were exhuming the corpse of the shapeshifter; we don’t know what they found. Possibilities include a corpse too badly decayed to supply a supplemental fingerprint check; a corpse with Dean’s fingerprints; a corpse that’s transformed into something else; or even a corpse that isn’t there any more (if something really has it in for Dean and wants to maximize trouble for him!). Any of those options would generate a considerable amount of official attention; it’s no wonder that we learned in Cross Road Blues that Dean wound up not only with a warrant for his arrest for murder in St. Louis, but also an entry in the FBI’s database. The plausible explanation has Dean being a multiple murderer, including of someone who took the blame for his earlier crimes.

 

And the events of Nightshifter dumped him deeper in the manure. If you, like the cops, accept the most plausible explanation for Dean being a dead man walking, you believe him to be a murderer, and he just proved it again. The dead shapeshifter in the bank was killed with a silver letter opener bearing Dean’s fingerprints, and died looking very human. Ron was killed by a police sniper while he was apparently pursuing the black man who was later found dead of a cut throat, which would be similar to the knife attacks in St. Louis. While none of the hostages in the bank witnessed either killing, they saw Sam and Dean working with Ron, and being free to move in the bank while the rest were confined. Although this detail makes no sense, the presence of skin piles in the bank matches what was found in St. Louis – and the only common connection between the St. Louis situation and the deaths in the Milwaukee bank is Dean. Sam being with him makes Sam an accomplice to murder, and the S.W.A.T. guys whom Sam took down will be able to identify him as having been their assailant, dangerous enough to have taken out two heavily armed cops in hand-to-hand combat.

 

The bank witnesses will give confused accounts at best. Sheri won’t be able to provide anything but a hysterical account of seeing a double of herself apparently dead of a cut throat, who then attacked Dean. That story is likely to be dismissed as unreliable, the product of shock. The duplication of Sheri will make for a fascinating puzzle, but cops don’t like puzzles, and the only part of the puzzle that will matter is the one understandable bit: the murder weapon, complete with prints.

 

Sam and Dean will be seriously hunted now. The FBI, personified by Special Agent Victor Hendrickson, doubtless got involved the moment that Dean turned up alive in Baltimore, and made the effort to dig up everything possible to find on the Winchesters to play connect the dots. That meant tracing them back to the very beginning, to Mary’s death and to John buying guns, taking his boys, and dropping out of sight like some nutcase anti-government survivalist. To the authorities, none of that will look good. And learning about other bizarre circumstances occurring in towns when the Winchesters were present will only add to the tally against them, even if none of what the authorities learn makes any logical sense.

 

Their life on the road is their greatest advantage. Because they travel the highways and byways by car and avoid airports, trains, and buses, they can stay more anonymous than most. They tend to small towns and back roads much more than big cities, places often out of the loop when it comes to bulletins and alerts for wanted fugitives. There are far too many cars on the road for police to be watching out for many specific ones, so a single car is still the least likely thing to be spotted, especially since the boys range literally all over the country; vehicle alerts are much easier to manage within a defined area. The Impala still may be their greatest weakness, at least if Hendrickson guesses that the boys were the ones who stole it out of the impound lot in Baltimore, but in the poorer areas where the boys tend to rent, an old car stands out less than a new one would, so on balance, the comfort of it may be worth the risk.

 

But whatever patterns Hendrickson identified in order to learn as much as he already has about the Winchesters, he has the resources to set up alerts to find them much as Ash used John’s research papers to create his demon alarm system. The boys’ photos are doubtless making the rounds of police stations and post offices. All it will take is a reported glimpse, or a photo, or a fingerprint, and the trackers will be on their trail.

 

Frankly, the only way out that I can see would be if the boys’ confrontation with Hendrickson takes place in circumstances that make Hendrickson question his own perception of reality, and involve actions that convince Hendrickson that they – particularly Dean – aren’t the monsters he thinks they are. But until then, Hendrickson – and any other cops specifically alerted to the deadly danger now associated with the renegade Winchesters – will be more interested in stopping them fast and hard than in bringing them to court or getting answers from them about the strangeness they evoke. And because cops are just humans doing their jobs to protect themselves and others, not evil things that the Winchesters feel justified in killing, they pose a greater danger to the boys than almost anything in the supernatural world.

 

They are so screwed.


 
 
Current Music: "Renegade" by Styx