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Heavy Meta Poisoning
Supernatural is truth
"Our Dad's a Hero" - John Winchester's Digression from the Champion to the Adversary 
21st-Jul-2009 02:33 am
Contrary to Misha
John Winchester. The man, the myth, the legend. At the inception of Supernatural, we are introduced to a father who put everything on the line to protect his family and extract his revenge. And because of these two obsessions, he is idolized by one son and rejected by the other. Cut to the finale of Season Four and we see that the child who revered John became a man who denounced him. And the child who deplored him? Now he values the lessons he was taught. This meta looks to explore how Dean and Sam’s relationship with their dad has reversed over the course of the series with a particular focus in the crusade of being normal.

FYI this is my first try at a Meta. I hope you like :) I threw in some photos for prettiness. I feel like it's incomplete but I also feel like you could really write forever about the series. Uh, anyway, reviews? lol.

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John Winchester. The man, the myth, the legend. At the inception of Supernatural, we are introduced to a father who put everything on the line to protect his family and extract his revenge. And because of these two obsessions, he is idolized by one son and rejected by the other. Cut to the finale of Season Four and we see that the child who revered John became a man who denounced him. And the child who deplored him? Now he values the lessons he was taught. This meta looks to explore how Dean and Sam’s relationship with their dad has reversed over the course of the series with a particular focus in the crusade of being normal.

The show embraces the classic archetype of the good son versus the prodigal son. The writers have made every effort to reinforce Dean’s admiration for his father and his desire to please his father. When eight-year old Sam demands answers after finding the journal on Christmas Eve, Dean begins his explanation by saying, “First thing you have to know is, we have the coolest dad in the world. He’s a superhero [Episode 3.08 A Very Supernatural Christmas].” It’s safe to say that this blind obedience started with the night that their mother died.

John: Take your brother outside as fast as you can and don’t look back. Now, Dean, go!

Most likely this is not the first order his father has ever given him. I’m sure prior to the Pilot, John was running around the house like a typical father yelling at Dean to take a bath and to put his toys away. And we can assume that like most children, Dean followed these orders haphazardly. You show me a child who makes their bed and brushes their teeth every time you ask and we’ll have them cloned. We’ll make a mint, I swear.

But this order is different. Because Dean listened to his father, he saved Sammy. Almost instantaneously, John becomes the patron saint of all things valiant and noble. He knew what to do, what was the right choice to make. So the next time there was an order to follow, Dean was going to step in line because refusal to do so could mean putting his family in harm’s way.

And Sam had nothing but contempt for his father at the start of the show. In Episode 1.10 Asylum, we see a few flashes of pure honesty about the situation from his point of view the same way viewers got an inside look into Dean’s head aided by the shapeshifter.

Sam: I am normal. I’m just tellin’ the truth for the first time. I mean, why are we even here? Because you’re following Dad’s orders like a good little soldier? ‘Cause you always do what he says without question? Are you that desperate for his approval?
Dean: This isn’t you talking, Sam.
Sam: That’s the difference between you and me. I have a mind of my own. I’m not pathetic like you.

It’s interesting to note that the more Sam tries to understand his father, the more he respects and appreciates John. Actions that seemed questionable at the time now seem like good decisions in hindsight. Although Sam feels like he had to give up a piece of himself to conform to John’s demands, he concedes that his father had to have done something right given how the boys turned out given the circumstances. The biggest change in Sam’s way of thinking is after he witnesses how Max Miller basically implodes due to the aftermath of being one of Satan’s little power rangers in Episode 1.14 Nightmare.

Sam: I’ll tell you one thing, we’re lucky we had Dad.
Dean: I never thought I’d hear you say that.
Sam: Well, it could have gone all other way after Mom. A little more tequila, a little less demon hunting and we would have had Max’s childhood. All things considered, we turned out okay. Thanks to him.

However as the series progresses for Dean, we see the opposite reaction. Dean was able to postpone debating his compliance to John’s commands right up until the Pilot. To look at it in a harsh way, it’s really easy to follow a dictator when they got their eyes on your every move, but once they’re out of the picture… well it’s real easy to lapse into some routines of your own. In fact it only takes Dean three weeks to break a serious order. When Sam left for Stanford, John says his tell tale line, “If you walk out that door, don’t you ever come back.” At the time, this just seemed to reinforce the notion that following John was the correct thing to do. Sam didn’t listen and look what happened? Broke up the entire family. Tore a father away from his son. Made a rift between brothers. But as soon as John leaves, Dean runs to Sam, orders be damned. I’m fairly sure that John’s parting words to Sam also served as an order for Dean to not contact him. In Episode 1.16 Shadow, we see how badly Dean was hurt by Sam’s absence though it’s not really that shocking.

Sam: I mean, what are you gonna do when it’s all over?
Dean: It is never gonna be over, there’s gonna be others so there’ll always be something to hunt.
Sam: But there’s gotta be something that you want for yourself.
Dean: I don’t want you to leave the second this is over, Sam! Dean answers before heading for a chest of drawers.
Sam: Dude, what’s your problem?
Dean: Why do you think I drag you everywhere, huh? Why do you think I came and got you at Stanford in the first place?
Sam: Cause Dad was in trouble, ‘cause he wanted to find the thing that killed Mom.
Dean: Yes, that, but it’s more than that, man. You and me, and Dad, I want us to…I want us to be together again, I want us to be a family again.

We know from Episode 2.20 What Is And What Should Never Be and Episode 3.10 Dream A Little Dream Of Me that Dean’s ultimate fantasy is being the family man. And Dean’s proven that he will do anything to keep his family together come hell (literally!) or high water. So it has to be something (or someone) pretty major that keeps Dean from contacting Sam all those years and that someone is no other than John. The second the brothers are back together, it’s undeniable that everything seems to fall into place. As Dean said, they made "a hell of a team back there."

This is the first step that Dean takes away from his father. He finally realizes that his father can’t be right about everything because he definitely wasn’t right about this. And let’s not forget the whole debacle that John caused when he revealed to Dean that Dean may have to kill his brother if Dean couldn’t save Sam from Hell’s death grip. Many people believe that another major step in breaking their bond was John’s deal with the demon to resurrect Dean, but Dean thinks this was a bad choice based on the fact that he didn’t believe he was worth that kind of sacrifice. He understands that he and Sam will always be John’s weak spot and that he’d make this decision regardless. Hell, he repeats this in Episode 2.22 All Hell Breaks Loose Part 2 when Dean resurrects Sam. It would seem that Dean does agree that it is a good decision to sacrifice ones soul for a family member’s mortality. It’s really not until Episode 3.10 Dream a Little Dream of Me that Dean is able to confront the fact that for the majority of his life, he has identified himself as John’s son and not just as Dean.

Dream Dean: What are the things that you want? What are the things that you dream? I mean, your car? That's Dad's. Your favorite leather jacket? Dad's. Your music? Dad's. Do you even have an original thought?

While we are quite certain that Dean was upset with the burden John laid upon him in Episode 2.01 In My Time Of Dying, we aren’t exactly sure if Dean is upset with John. I know, I know… how could he not be? But remember at the time, Dean still thought his Dad knew what was best and as hard as it was to hear those words, it didn’t mean that it wasn’t the truth. Pissed off at the situation, but not at the messenger, ya know? But after Dean’s tirade, it’s clear where he stands with his feelings on John.

Dream Dean: All there is, "Watch out for Sammy. Look out for your little brother, boy!" You can still hear your Dad's voice in your head, can't you? Clear as a bell.
Dean: Just shut up.
Dream Dean: I mean, think about it....all he ever do is train you, boss you around. But Sam.... Sam he doted on. Sam, he loved. I mean it. I'm getting angry. Dad knew who you really were. A good soldier and nothing else. Daddy's blunt little instrument. Your own father didn't care whether you lived or died. Why should you?
Dean: Son of a bitch! My father was an obsessed bastard! All that crap he dumped on me, about protecting Sam. That was his crap. He's the one who couldn't protect his family. He- He's the one who let Mom die. Who wasn't there for Sam. I always was! He wasn't fair! I didn't deserve what he put on me. And I don't deserve to go to hell!

To truly show how far the show has progressed, compare the previous quote with Dean’s realization about Sam in Episode 4.19 Jump The Shark.

Dean: You know, I finally get why and Dad butted heads so much. You two are practically the same person. I mean, I worshipped the guy. I dressed like him, I acted like him, I listened to the same music… but you are more like him than I will ever be. I see that now.
Sam: I’ll take that as compliment.
Dean: You can take it any way you want.

There was a time when all Dean wanted was to be like his father and all Sammy wanted was to run away from him, the further the better. John didn’t think of the Winchester family as being normal in any sense of the word. On the other hand, Sam desperately craved the stability of being a regular person. It was made clear from the beginning that there is a distinct line between the outside world and the supernatural world. You can be normal and innocent (translation: sitting ducks) or you can be a Winchester.

Dean: Growin’ up in a place like this would freak me out.
Sam: Why?
Dean: Well, manicured lawns, “How was your day, honey?” –- I’d blow my brains out.
Sam: There’s nothing wrong with “normal”.
Dean: I’d take our family over normal any day.

Sam’s desire for the mundane is reiterated in Episode 4.13 After School Special. He is so fanatically obsessed with trying to appear normal that he allows a school yard bully to beat him up in front of his classmates despite the fact that they are only “his classmates” for another two weeks

[After a bully beats up Sam]
Dean: That kid’s dead. I’m gonna rip his lungs out!
Sam: It’s not a big deal.
Dean: Not a big deal? Sammy, look at yourself! If Dad was here...
Sam: He’s not.
Dean: Well I am. And as soon as I’m finished with that dick...!
Sam: Just shut up, okay? I don’t need your help.
Dean: That’s right you don’t - you could’ve torn him apart, so why didn’t you?
Sam: Because I don’t wanna be the freak for once, Dean!

The transformation of Dean and Sam to their polar opposites is nearly complete by Episode 4.15 Death Takes A Holiday. Dean, who has always thought of himself as outside of the law, now believes he’s just like everyone else. Even though he grew up always considering himself a “freak” (Shapeshifter Dean: See, deep down, I’m just jealous. You got friends. You could have a life. Me? I know I’m a freak) and even after all of the insane, otherworldly things that has happened to him (How many times has he died? Three? Four? ...And that number is projected to increase), Dean finally stands up to John’s belief against normalcy. Sam, however, has grown to jaded and can no longer summon the strength to deny John’s assertion. Hell, he seems to pick up the cross where John abandoned it.

Dean: You want me to gank a monster, or torch a corpse, hey, let’s light it up, right? But this? If we fix whatever it is, people are gonna start dropping dead. Good people.
Sam: Look, I don’t want them to die either, Dean. But there’s a natural order.
Dean: You’re kidding, right? You don’t see the irony in that? I mean you and me, we’re like the poster boys of the unnatural. All we do is ditch death.
Sam: Yeah, but the normal rules don’t really apply to us, do they?
Dean: We’re no different than anybody else!
Sam: I’m infected with demon blood. You’ve been to Hell. I know you want to think of yourself as Joe the Plumber, Dean, but you’re not. Neither am I. The sooner you accept that the better off you’re gonna be.

Dean is quick to call Sam out about this shift early on in Season 4 in Episode 4.04 Metamorphisis. After watching Sam exorcise a demon with his mind, Dean asks him incredulously “Do you even know how far off the reservation you've gone? How far from normal? From human?” If anything seals the deal about Sammy giving up his quest for the picket fence, it’s the scene in Episode 4.21 When The Levee Breaks where he is hallucinating a conversation between him and his fourteen-year old self.

Sam: What do you want?
Young Sam: An explanation! How could you do this to me? I thought we were gonna be normal.
Sam: I tried. I did. It didn’t pan out that way. Sorry kid.
Young Sam: Sorry kid? That’s what you have to say? It’s all we ever wanted! We were so close! You got away from Dad. You quit hunting! You were gonna become a lawyer and get married! Why’d you blow it?
Sam: Look! They killed Jessica.”
Young Sam: Yeah. And if you hadn’t run off with Dean, if you’d been there to protect her, she’d still be alive. Think Jess would want you to turn into this? She loved you! You think she’d be happy, you using her as an excuse?
Sam: I’m sorry. I am. But life doesn’t turn out the way you thought it would when you were fourteen years old. We were never gonna be normal, we were never gonna get away.Grow up.

The irony in all of this is that while the show has come full circle in terms of character development, we haven’t actually gotten anywhere. Dean and Sam have traded places in regards to how they feel about John, but neither is correct. To put a philosophical spin on this, I’m reminded of Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics. Virtue (or all things that are good) is the intermediate between two vices (or all things that are bad). When a person strays from the mean, they will either encounter an excess or a deficiency. Neither of these roads will lead to happiness and fulfillment. It is fascinating though to see how the boy’s relationship with John continues to grow and mutate even though the dude’s been dead for nearly three years now. It’s highly unlikely that the brothers position on their father will flip flop once again, but hopefully both of them will be able to truly come to peace with what happened between the three of them during Season Five.


21st-Jul-2009 06:05 pm (UTC) - 1/2
John meta! And so prettily put together!

In general, I agree with what you're saying. On a superficial level, Sam and Dean have basically swapped opinions on a great number of things, including John, hunting, desire for a "normal" life, and so on. What complicates maters though is when you look at the details and that is where I have to nitpick at your essay a touch. Please don't take that as an attack against you or anything, I just like meta and I ramble a lot. :)

For instance, you write "Dean was able to postpone debating his compliance to John’s commands right up until the Pilot." This is something I don't agree with. Dean did typically follow John's orders, it's true, and I'll even agree that there's a subconscious touch of "he was right back then and Sam and I were saved, therefore he'll still be right this time and we'll be saved again" to it but despite what Sam has said on the topic, Dean has never shown that he's blindly followed John's word of law. Not as an adult, at any rate - there certainly might have been some measure of that as a child.

I definitely disagree that John forbade Dean to talk to Sam while Sam was away. I'm pretty sure that John wouldn't want to talk about Sam at all (and probably nixed Sam as a topic of conversation, at least for the immediate period following Sam's departure) but he was willing to go and check on Sam on a regular basis and he'd brag about Sam to the People In Peril often enough so that Dean wasn't surprised by it in PT. Dean's words to Sam in the pilot about not asking for anything for the last two years actually made it sound to me that SAM had broken contact completely, not John. The brothers have shown a willingness to choose each other over their father; I'm pretty sure that if John had tried to forbid all contact between Dean and Sam, he'd have that order ignored at a minimum.

Also, take into account Dean's behavior in Dead Man's Blood, Salvation, and In My Time Of Dying. Dean actively disregards John's orders in DMB and winds up saving his life. He also tells John to stand down when he and Sam are going at it (to be fair, he does the same with Sam). John's reaction to both of these events suggest to me that this wasn't the first time Dean has taken such measures. He showed no surprise at all to be ordered back to his truck during his confrontation with Sam and doesn't seem particularly frustrated with Dean's refusal to obey with the vampires.

I'll admit, the fact that Dean and Sam saved his ass might have something to do with that; it seems particularly unsporting to be ungrateful when your life was on the line, but the point remains that Dean didn't even show any hesitation or angst as one might have expected had it been his first time defying a direct order given by John to Dean's face. Even in Salvation, John gets snippy about Dean's tone, not that Dean had argued back instead of just taking John's criticism.

Finally, in IMToD, Dean's unheard rant to John wasn't one of someone betrayed unexpectedly. It was of someone angry and hurt, sure, but Dean didn't seem particularly shocked or surprised that John wasn't really reacting to Dean's apparent doom. I took this to show that Dean knew (and indeed has long known) of John's flaws and faults. He wasn't looking at the man through rose colored glasses as he did when he was a kid. As he said, he knew his dad better than anyone and IMHO that included the good AND the bad. His monologue in Dream wasn't an epiphany regarding just how much John sucked as a father so much as his first understanding that Dean hadn't deserved it, just like he didn't deserve to go to Hell.

It's not so neat a reversal with those wrenches tossed in, but when has anything on SPN ever been pat and simple?
21st-Jul-2009 06:06 pm (UTC) - Re: 2/2
Also, I'd argue the desire for "normal" is a bit more complex as well. Dean's desire for normality in S4 is a relative term - it's Hunting normal that he's seeking, not a house in the suburbs with a white picket fence. I do think he wants the actual, full blown version of normalcy in his heart of hearts, but I'm not sure he'd ever feel comfortable if he got it. Dean can't voluntarily blind himself to the dangers of the world. He's been given two "outs" from the Hunting life and in both of them, he returned to it within short order.

Part of the issue is also that Dean doesn't view himself as special and finds the concept that others might to be very uncomfortable. He says he has issues being singled out at birthday parties, much less being handchosen by God to save the world. Dean's been saving people for years and has never seemed to want or seek out praise for his actions. That IS his normal. Sam rightfully pointing out that Dean isn't normal (even for Dean's previous definition of normal) is absolutely something Dean doesn't want to deal with.

As for Sam, IMHO he does still want normal - he just doesn't think he deserves it. Sam thinks he's been tainted and that the opportunities of a normal life are now beyond him. It's sour grapes that has him so adamantly state to Adam that it's hunting or normal life and never the twain shall meet. Which is a sad thought, but even if he could get over it, I'm not entirely sure he'd be happy turning his back on hunting again. Certainly not to the same extent he did last time, anyway. Sam Wesson was thrilled with the concept of hunting in 4x17; he was happiest on a hunt and the daily grind just bored him.

It's a complicated mix of emotions. Also, whereas Dean rejects the concept of being a chosen one, Sam strives for it. Sam's got a lot more issues with control than Dean does and if Sam is the special one (and to be fair, since S1, Sam has been the "special" one), then it gives him far more ability to fix everything and put things to rights. If he fully rejects the norm and embraces what sets him apart and makes him unique, Sam thought he had a far better chance to save the world. Sam Winchester, college student had no chance to do so. Sam Winchester, Boy King at least had some power to his punches. He was willing to sacrifice himself to achieve that end, but I'm not sure that really means he wanted it. Grew to crave it, maybe, but you can hate something you're addicted to, even if that something gives you a rush of pleasure each time you indulge.

I think in the end, Sam would be happiest with Dean's definition of normal - the hunting version. Which sort of goes back to your concept of coming full circle and finding the middle path. There are a lot of extremes here; it will definitely be interesting to see where they finally end up.

Anyway, thanks for posting this. Your meta makes a few good points and is very nicely formatted. Thanks for sharing!
22nd-Jul-2009 09:59 am (UTC)
A comprehensive and well-elucidated meta. John is a complex character often viewed in the second- and third-hand as he was featured in very few episodes. Often metas concerning John is coloured by how the writer thinks the boys should perceive him but I think you manage to side step that neatly by taking on Dean or Sam's perception of him.

Very nicely done.
5th-Nov-2011 07:02 pm (UTC)
Here through a link at the supernatural wiki.

Very interesting article and echoes a lot my thoughts on how Sam and Dean's perceptions of John have mutated over the years. Good point about how Dean went to find Sam almost as soon as John was out of the picture (not there+ not calling=loss of influence).

Glad I stopped by. =]
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