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Heavy Meta Poisoning
Supernatural is truth
Dad’s Not Here - John in Nightmare 
22nd-Aug-2006 12:29 am
Pomegranate
By my count, this is the third episode, not counting the Pilot, to deal with Sam and Dean’s “daddy issues.” In the Pilot, we saw happy-daddy John transform into a hunter. In Bugs, we heard Sam talk about how dissatisfied he was with his childhood and how he wasn’t sure if John wanted to see him at all. In Home we saw a still-grieving man staying away from his boys even though he wanted to see them. In Scarecrow, three episodes before Nightmare, we saw John call the boys on the phone and speak kindly to Sam before cracking down into drill sergeant mode.

John doesn’t show up at all in Nightmare, but he’s lurking between the lines throughout the episode. He’s clearly on Sam’s mind, perhaps almost from the beginning.

When Sam and Dean talk to the Millers’ neighbor to get details about Jim Miller’s death, she tells them, “Oh, his poor family. I can’t even imagine what they’re going through.” Sam looks away and seems very upset. He may have been upset only because he felt guilty for not getting there soon enough to prevent Jim Miller’s death, but I think there may have been more to it.

For the past several months, Sam has been trying to track down his father, whom he hasn’t seen in years and with whom he argued the last time they were together. He knows that John is in danger, pursuing the demon that killed Mary. When he spoke to John on the phone in Scarecrow, the first thing he asked was, “Are you hurt?” So, in this situation--a middle aged man, a father who drives an old/classic car and listens to classic rock, a man Sam feels some strange connection with is killed--perhaps he’s thinking that he *can* imagine what the family’s going through.

Later that day, Sam talks to Max, and Max says that Jim Miller was “a normal dad,” and indicates that he’s living there while he saves money for college. Again, John Winchester pops up between the lines. Normal is a watchword for Sam, and he’s made it clear in the past that he doesn’t consider the way John raised him and Dean to be normal. And, of course, John didn’t support Sam’s college plans. At this point in the episode, Sam may be envying Max his father and his childhood.

Later, when Sam and Max talk again after Roger Miller’s death, Max again states, “We were totally normal. Happy.” However, when Dean and Sam dig into the family’s background, they find out that Jim and Roger Miller both physically abused Max and that Jim Miller was “a mean drunk.”

Because of what Sam says later in the episode, that he “can’t begin to understand what [Max] went through,” I wonder if at this point Sam feels some twinge of guilt for the (apparent) lies he told to Jess in the Pilot, when he implied twice that John was pretty much a worthless drunk. We don’t know for a fact from the conversations in this episode that John didn’t ever have (or flirt with) some kind of drinking problem. However, when Sam says that he can’t begin to understand Max’s experience, it makes me think that what he said in the Pilot was at the very least a major exaggeration.

When the whole truth comes out in the conversation between Sam and Max, when Sam and Dean have gone to the Miller’s house to confront Max, I think we see a distinct illustration of what John gave to his sons versus what Jim Miller took from Max. Except for his new telekinetic abilities, Max made it clear that he always felt helpless and powerless. “My whole life I was helpless,” he says. His decision to kill his father and uncle “was about not being afraid.”

We can easily compare Max to Sam and Dean, who were raised to be strong, to be able to protect themselves and others, to be afraid only when necessary for self-preservation. Sam may complain about being raised like warriors, and there are certainly many arguments against John’s child-rearing methods, but nonetheless he gave his sons a great deal of strength and confidence. Jim Miller took those things away from Max.

Again, despite his odd methods, John Winchester gave his sons his love. Max says to Sam, “When my dad used to look at me, there was hate in his eyes. Do you know what that feels like?” Sam answers simply, “No.” Sam and John apparently argued quite a bit, at least when Sam was in his late teens, but Sam still clearly knew he was loved. John may have looked at him with anger or frustration or even disappointment, but not hate.

Max also says that his father blamed him for his mother’s death, a death that parallels Mary’s death in Sam’s nursery. Sam doesn’t seem to identify at all with being blamed that way, so apparently John never laid that burden on Sam. The final mention of fathers in Sam and Max’s discussion is when Sam reveals that his father saw Mary die the same way Jim Miller saw Max’s mother die. Max says, “Then your dad must have been as drunk as mine.” Again, Sam answers simply, “No.”

Later, as Sam and Dean leave the Miller house, Sam reveals to Dean that he’s pretty much done a 180 in his opinion about their father, as opposed to what it was earlier in the season. “Well, I’ll tell you one thing—we’re lucky we had Dad…Well, he could’ve gone a whole ‘nother way after Mom. A little more tequila, a little less demon-hunting, and we would’ve had Max’s childhood. All things considered, we turned out okay—thanks to him.”

At this point, I think Sam is starting to see that the demon-hunting was actually a functional response to seeing your wife killed by supernatural forces. This experience of seeing all-too-human horror behind the mask of the “normal” family he always yearned for probably gave him some appreciation for the fact that his childhood could have been much worse than it was. Through his reactions to Max, Sam has told us a lot about what John *wasn't* as a father: he wasn’t a violent drunk; he didn’t physically abuse them; he didn’t show contempt for them; he didn’t blame Sam for Mary’s death.

That leaves a lot of latitude for how exactly John was as a father, but given how he’s sometimes perceived in fandom, it’s valuable information.
Comments 
22nd-Aug-2006 05:00 am (UTC)
Wonderful meta. I think you really highlight an important point here:

Again, despite his odd methods, John Winchester gave his sons his love. Max says to Sam, “When my dad used to look at me, there was hate in his eyes. Do you know what that feels like?” Sam answers simply, “No.”

There may be many things you can criticise about John's parenting (and a few fen have), but there is no doubt that it was motivated by his love for his boys (and fear for their safety). I think you have rightly identified that this is an important point in Sam's maturing perspective on his family. I think becuase of their strange circumstances separating. in the normal emotional sense, from his father was difficult. And the loss of contact for so many years meant the anger at that continued, and there wasn't the chance for the normal process whereby a child engages with their parent as an adult.

The other point I'd make, which is beyond your topic, is that we also have reinforced in this episode that Dean has been/is Sam's other parental figure. Whereas Max'z mother didn't intervene or protect him, Sam always had Dean as well. And this is emphasised at the end with dean's statement that "nothing bad will happen when I'm around". becuase really Sammy had two fathers.

like you i have procrastinated over meta - must finish now!.

22nd-Aug-2006 05:09 am (UTC)
The other point I'd make, which is beyond your topic, is that we also have reinforced in this episode that Dean has been/is Sam's other parental figure.

Yes, exactly! I had to keep struggling against making this a Dean&Sam&John meta. I think that's what was going on when Dean paused before saying, "All things considered." Some people have interpreted that as that Dean in fact was abused by John, but I just don't see that. I think that in that pause Dean was thinking something like, "As though I would have let Dad hit you, dumbass."
22nd-Aug-2006 06:05 am (UTC)
I think that in that pause Dean was thinking something like, "As though I would have let Dad hit you, dumbass."

Good point, hadn't thought of that. Also that Dean means - well hell Sam in our family "all things considered" was some pretty heavy shit for Dad (and me) to deal with.
22nd-Aug-2006 06:11 am (UTC)
That's true, too. Ah, Winchesters, how much do I want to hug you all?
(Deleted comment)
22nd-Aug-2006 06:09 am (UTC)
Thanks! Yeah, I think it's cool that we had this episode with all of it's daddyness and then Benders with it's screwed-up family, and then after that the family reunion in Shadow. By that time, Sam is very, very ready to see John again.
22nd-Aug-2006 11:38 am (UTC)
Sam still clearly knew he was loved. John may have looked at him with anger or frustration or even disappointment, but not hate.

*nodnod* love your meta. This in particualr, it's a great point to make:

Sam is starting to see that the demon-hunting was actually a functional response to seeing your wife killed by supernatural forces.

I've been saying/thinking that all along. What would I do in those circumstances? What is a father in John's situaiton supposed to do? Like Max's father, blame his son and drink? Relocate and pretend it didn't happen? Would that be possible.

yes, geven the circumstances, John had a functional -Marine-trained- response. Take the offensive. Be prepared. 8That's my own John-full-season meta trickling in ;)

Thank you for your thoughts!
22nd-Aug-2006 02:14 pm (UTC)
Thanks! You know, I had never seen so much about John in this episode until I watched it with an eye toward writing this meta. It's interesting what you find when you go looking for it.
22nd-Aug-2006 12:52 pm (UTC)
Interesting meta.

I always thought the episode was supposed to clear about some of the preconceptions Sam and the fans might have had about John. A big theme of Season 1 has been Sam learning to relate and really see both his brother and father as humans, through adult eyes.

John may have looked at him with anger or frustration or even disappointment, but not hate.

That was especially poignant because unfortunately blaming the baby isn`t such a far off reaction in a case like this.

Sam looks away and seems very upset. He may have been upset only because he felt guilty for not getting there soon enough to prevent Jim Miller’s death, but I think there may have been more to it.

Intriguing thought because labelling his father a drunk and his brother a drifter? would have been the easiest way to avoid questions and allow him to pretend-life his life. Considering how they cared for him growing up it is also very shameful for him.
And Sam learned here that the "normal" life can be just as ugly and more behind the happy facade.

I think Sam is starting to see that the demon-hunting was actually a functional response to seeing your wife killed by supernatural forces.

I`m sure it gave him a better understanding of it but I don`t think he did a complete 180 on John or doesn`t have any issues with his day-to-day decisions in the life. And I can`t blame him for that. I do too.
Once DMB rolls along, you can see that there is still and probably always will be resentment brewing beneath the surface. And that`s to be expected as just too much happened between these men to not leave permanent scars. Dean`s co-dependency, Sam`s anger, John`s obsession. They are lucky to be as functional as they are.

That leaves a lot of latitude for how exactly John was as a father, but given how he’s sometimes perceived in fandom, it’s valuable information.

Absolutely. It de-demonizes him quite a bit but doesn`t saintify him either. After all not beating on your kids doesn`t automatically make you a good father. But a damn well better one than the poor excuse that was Roger Miller.
The show often explores the theme of mirror images. And I guess this was John`s dark mirror.
22nd-Aug-2006 02:22 pm (UTC)
Intriguing thought because labelling his father a drunk and his brother a drifter? would have been the easiest way to avoid questions and allow him to pretend-life his life. Considering how they cared for him growing up it is also very shameful for him.

Yeah, I don't totally blame Sam for the lies he told, but I do think he should feel a bit guilty for them. Living on his own at Stanford must have been tremendously difficult for him at first, being so different from what he was used to, and I can see the temptation of spinning tales.

I`m sure it gave him a better understanding of it but I don`t think he did a complete 180 on John or doesn`t have any issues with his day-to-day decisions in the life. And I can`t blame him for that. I do too.

Oh, absolutely. I think that at that specific time, from the end of Nightmare and going in the reunion in Shadow, he's done a 180, but then once they get back into contact with John he starts going back the other way because the man still drives him crazy.

Thanks for reading and commenting!
22nd-Aug-2006 02:44 pm (UTC)
Oh, absolutely. I think that at that specific time, from the end of Nightmare and going in the reunion in Shadow, he's done a 180, but then once they get back into contact with John he starts going back the other way because the man still drives him crazy.

It was probably a bit of a case of absence makes the heart grew fonder and "hey, maybe everything wasn`t as bad as I remember". But then DMB comes along and Sam thinks "Yes, it was." And you could practically see him de-evolving into angry teenager in reaction to it. It was very family picnic from hell. *g*
22nd-Aug-2006 07:13 pm (UTC)
I love John Winchester. Lovely work, hon.
22nd-Aug-2006 07:16 pm (UTC)
Thank you! I love him, too.
23rd-Aug-2006 01:23 pm (UTC)
This really rocks! Your points about the differences between John and Max's dad bring up a lot of... misconceptions... that many fen seem to have about him (my point of view being the correct one, of course *snerk*).

John seems very easy to vilify in season one--mostly because we only really see him through the lives and thoughts of his boys. Yes, Dean is mostly functional--even uber-functional in that "I are a blithe and fearsome hunter" sort of way--but he's shown himself time and time again to be pretty much irretrievably broken in many ways. All of which can be traced back to Mary and to the way his dad raised him. And Sam's anger and snarks at the way they were raised are often condemning of John in that sort of final, Bad!Daddy way that paints a very black-and-white, two-dimensional picture of an obsessed man who just had no time in his demon-hunting frenzy of a life to raise his boys right.

"Nightmare" really does add another huge dimension to the character without him ever being on-screen. IMHO, John may actually be the best-articulated character in the show, because the writers do a fine job of painting a picture of a man we've never really met.

And astri13's discussion of mirrors has reminded me that I really need to get to work on the rest of the season one bad guys meta. *sigh* So much meta, so little time!

Thank you so much for writing this. It's truly wonderful!
23rd-Aug-2006 02:34 pm (UTC)
Thank you so much for your comments!

(my point of view being the correct one, of course *snerk*)

Oh, absolutely! LOL
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