Dean Meta for Hell House - "Bring it on, Baldy."
Let’s start with the first prank pulled. Sam is sleeping, Dean takes a spoon, inserts it into Sam’s mouth, pulls out his camera phone, and takes a picture. He then cranks the music up, sings along, and air drums a little solo on the steering wheel. The next dialog exchange is what I find interesting.
Sam: Ha. Ha. Very funny.
Dean: Sorry. Not a lot of scenery here in East Texas, kinda got to make your own.
Sam: Man, we’re not kids anymore, Dean. We’re not going to start that crap up again!
Dean: Start what up?
Sam: That prank stuff! It’s stupid and it always escalates!
Dean: Awww, what’s a matter, Sammy, afraid you’re going to get a little Nair in your shampoo again, huh?
Sam: Alright, just remember you started it.
Dean: Ohhh, bring it on, baldy.
Okay, so they would lead me to believe that Dean hasn’t pulled a single prank on Sam since they started this road trip almost a year ago? That he never pulled some little joke that could have been seen as a “prank”? Was there something specific about the “spoon in the mouth” joke that made Sam take the leap to “Prank War”? I always thought it was so interesting that Sam immediately went from “Dean stuck a spoon in my mouth while I was sleeping” to an all out Prank War.
The other interesting thing about this scene is how quickly Sam gets over the prank. After glaring at Dean and vowing to get him back, he’s rattling off their next gig and laughing right along with Dean. Any animosity is quickly forgotten and they’re back on equal footing again.
The Prank War seems to have established rules, which shows they probably did this a lot as children. Don’t lose focus on the job, don’t do anything that will irreparably harm the other, but anything else is fair game. The Prank War is not just a way to blow off some steam, it’s a way to remind them of their childhood. If you look at the pranks that are played - spoon in the mouth, screwing with the car, itching powder, and superglue - they are all the level of a pre-pubescent boy. (And please don't argue with me that Sam's pranks were "classier" or more "thoughtful" - he glued Dean's hand to a beer bottle. That prank is just as stupid as the itching powder. Both boys are acting like dumb ten-year-olds and that's all we're supposed to see). The pranking is such a BROTHER moment. I think this just continues to build on the idea that the boys are not only brothers, they're friends.
There isn’t malice in the pranks, it is more of, “Oh, that was lame. I’m totally going to get him back for that and mine is going to be so much better”, and then on to the next prank. I like the idea of them as kids, pulling pranks on one another to keep entertained. Again, such a brother (or sibling) thing to do. And the fact that Dean starts it should be no surprise. He is the one that wishes that they could go back to the way they were when they were kids. He wants his family back. Getting Sam to “play” with him, it just brings another piece of what their old life was like back to him. And that is what the Prank War really symbolizes.
What does Dean want? He wants his family back together. Dean doesn't have anything else. He has his family, he has SAM, and that's it, that's the basket he's put all his eggs (happiness) into. What Dean needs more than anything else - more than girls, more than his car, more than hunting - is to have his family physically present with him. Part of the problem that will always exist between Sam and Dean is that Dean needs Sam to be with him all the way. Dean needs his family together and physically present in his life. His definition of family means that the people in it share a physical space. He‘s never been able to move past the idea that people leave him. I hope someday he can wrap his head around the fact that Sam can still love him and be his brother from Ohio as well as from the passenger seat of the car, but for now, he needs Sam, and he needs him here. And for the right here, right now, Dean has Sam. Sam is in it completely. He’s an equal partner, he’s a companion, he’s a brother and he’s a friend. Dean has got Sam right where he wants him with the Prank War.
If we fast forward a second to the final prank (Dean: “You didn’t”. Sam: “Oh, I DID!”) it struck me that I had never heard Sam laugh like that. Sure, he’s made that “harrumph” laugh, and he smiles sometimes, but LAUGH? Up until now he hasn’t. He’s been so caught up in Jess’s death, his new superpowers and his issues with their Father that he hasn’t been in a shining sunshine mood. But Dean did something brilliant when he opened up the door to their past by starting up the prank war again.
He made Sam think about something other than how crappy his life is, and he reminded Sam that they had some good times when they were younger. For such a dark show, this episode was buoyed by its lightness. We got to see them both laugh and joke around and make their own happiness. They get so bogged down in “The Mission”, and “The Quest”, and the day-to-day hunts. We’ve seen them stressed, angry, mean, pissed, near-tears, in-tears, sad, broken, hurt, hurting one another and resentful. But laughing? Joking? No. At least not very often, and what little laughter we get is usually relief laughter, or dry laughter. Not laughter because of something silly and inconsequential.
And think for a second how NORMAL the Prank War was. Yeah, yeah, haunted house, but pulling those pranks was so pedestrian. Every family in the world has done that. So guess what Sam? You already have a little bit of normal. Now stop bitching and hug your brother.
They were dead even in the pranking – two for each – and it was perfect that the last prank they pulled was on the Hell Hounds. It was a nice touch to show in the end that their loyalty and solidarity still – and always will – lie with one another. Picking on those who will never know what it’s like to be them. And when they were laughing together – REALLY laughing together in the end – it was a perfect moment. They are such a united front, they don't even need to think about it. Sam can goof on Dean, but if anybody else tried it? Yeah, I don’t think so. They would be toast.
There are a couple of other hallmark Dean moments in this episode - the first one happens when he and Sam are searching the basement for Mordecai and find a closet full of rats. Dean confesses he hates rats and would rather have fought a ghost. This says a hell of a lot about Dean’s character in what could be a throw away line. There are things Dean can fight - monsters, ghosts, evil being. But something as pedestrian and normal as rats - that he has a problem with.
And when they finally burn Mordecai’s house to the ground, Sam has the “How many things exist just because people believe in them?” line. For Dean, that idea shakes his very core. He defines himself through two things - his family and hunting. If the things he hunts and protects the innocent from are simply there because people believe in them, then where is his purpose? If he is fighting against people's belief's, what happens when people stop believing? What would he do then?