I saw two aspects of Dean in this episode. There’s the law vs. lawless (or at least Dean’s idea of what law is). The other is family, and Dean’s view of what he knows of their dad vs. what Sam saw/experienced. In a way, both relate to John and each boy’s interpretation of John’s parenting.
Dean hustling pool is canon in this episode. Obviously good enough, too, to come out with that much money and no bloody nose. Dean shows no remorse for hustling, or for the credit card scams, stating their “day job” is hunting, the pay is crap, and he’d rather get money the “fun and easy” way than honestly. He even states it was the way they were raised. Add in here Dean’s justification of questioning the neighbors at a free BBQ. He makes a flip comment about being a “professional”, yet later that night, he steers Sam into squatting in one of the empty houses so he can try the steam shower. Are Dean’s morals actually skewed to believe that hustling and cheating and lying are okay, as long as no one gets hurt, or the ends justify the means? It is because he took after John so well, that even Sam says dad saw Dean as “perfect”? (aaaaaaaaaargh, not to be able to talk about future episodes is killing me here!)
“Law”, as defined by Man, doesn’t seem to hold much sway for Dean. (I’ll note a sidebar here and say Dean didn’t seem overly concerned about breaking into a church to melt the silver items in “Hook Man,” so maybe his lack of morals extends to religious laws as well?) He taunted Sam for calling in a false 911 in the pilot (‘Oooh, illegal’). He’s impersonated countless law officials, up to the FBI (as noted by the glovebox box in the pilot). He learned evil things=bad, dad&Sam&him=good. He has the ability to stop evil, and that’s enough for him. The flirting and the lying and everything society defines as “breaking the law” are deemed necessary in his eyes to carry out his protection of the innocents.
Another sidebar here about Dean’s comment on the “normal” neighborhood. He’d have blown his brains out rather than have the white picket fence? He’d rather have their family than “normal”…so he does recognize that their life isn’t normal, but he’s comfortable with it. This also ties back to his comfort with breaking the law.
The second aspect of Dean aligns with Sam and their views of John. Sam relates to Matt and his strained relationship with his dad. Dean literally gives Sam a blank stare when Sam remarks that the yelling between Matt and his dad looked familiar. Dean states that dad had to raise his voice at Sam when he was out of line, but dad never treated them “like that”, I assume with disregard for how it looked to outsiders to haul your son away from neighbor’s eyes and berate him quietly (though still in plain view). To Dean, dad never disrespected them. “Respect” is noted several times in relation to Sam and John by Dean, and it’s almost a puzzle to Dean how Sam could have thought otherwise. Dean’s idea of respect probably stemmed from their early “weapons training”, being given responsibility at a young age, trusted with guns and bow hunting.
The amount of layers in Dean’s expression when he tells Sam that dad (not “dad and he”, just “dad”) used to drive by Stanford whenever he could to make sure Sam was all right…I just can’t pin down what’s going through his mind. That almost-soft-snort, with the “yeah”…was it jealousy of some kind? Disbelief? Wonder that Dad would care so much about Sam being by himself, but not even giving notice before leaving Dean for weeks (or whatever the established canon is for John’s disappearance) in the pilot? His eyes have a sheen on them during this entire exchange of Sam’s belief that their dad may not want to even speak to him when they find him, and Dean’s rebuttal that Dad was never disappointed in Sam, and respected Sam. Did John just go off for a day or two up to Stanford, not telling Dean he was going, then when he returned, just casually saying that Sam was okay? (and wouldn’t that seem like a non-sequitur!?) Was Dean in the car with John when they drove by the school? Was it a realization that John and Sam are so far apart, yet are so similar, and that’s what keeps them at each other’s throats?
Annoying quibble. Dean says he remembers “that fight”, when Sam says their dad tossed him out when Sam told him about getting a full ride. And a few choice phrases coming from Sam’s mouth. In the pilot, Dean implies that Sam “ran away” to college to have a normal life. Are these the same fight, or because of the “at each others throats within five minutes”, that there were multiple fights about college?
Interesting also that Sam is learning what their dad thought of him through Dean. Is Dean the keeper of the truth for the family? “Phantom Traveler” gave us more insight into Dean and John’s life without Sam. Yeah, I know, the show is from Sam’s POV, and this way, as Sam learns, so learns the audience, but the exposition is coming from people who knew the Winchesters before (the series, anyway), or from Dean himself. So, is everything we learn twisted by Dean’s POV? Do we trust Dean’s comments of their father treating them with respect, or Sam’s view of John as a man who threw him out because he wanted a normal life? Or is it just a case of a father and son so at odds with each other that they may never agree on anything? Except killing a Demon, that is. (cue evil music crescendo and metal “chomp” here.)