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Supernatural is truth
If you love someone, set them free -- Dean in "Shadow" 
25th-Sep-2006 09:29 pm
SPN: Dean

"Shadow" is the episode that takes all of the little hints and bits of information about Dean's character from earlier in the season, and puts them together to give the most explicit picture up to that date of what makes Dean tick. Not surprisingly, the two most important points in the picture are Dean's relationship with his family and his commitment to hunting. And of the two, hunting seems a lot saner and healthier.

The episode gives us two emotionally climactic scenes: the conversation between Dean and Sam just before the boys go off to the warehouse to confront Meg, and the reunion with John. Even before we get that far, though, we get a few smaller, lighter scenes that foreshadow the big drama. At the start of the episode, we see Dean teasing Sam about being a "high school drama dork," and recalling with nostalgic amusement the time Sam was in a school production of Our Town. This fits in with the season's overall picture of the boys' childhood: young Sam tried to do "normal" things whenever possible; young Dean didn't do these things, but he was there to watch and applaud (and mock, no doubt) while Sam did them. It's also notable that when childhood reminiscences come up, Sam tends to remember the negative experiences while Dean focuses on the positive ones.

Later, when Sam and Dean are trying to drum up information in a bar, Sam accuses Dean of chatting up the bartender for her number. Dean protests that he's a professional before sheepishly producing the phone number in question. The exchange is played as a joke, but it's not the first time Dean speaks of himself this way. Throughout the season, he repeatedly refers to himself as a "professional" and to hunting as his "day job," "career," or "the family business." Some of the references are jokey, some are serious, but the repetition leaves me pretty convinced that this is Dean's real view of himself.

Then Meg shows up, and immediately lays into Dean, accusing him of dragging Sam around against his will and treating him "like luggage." Her words seem to be targeted at Sam -- she badmouths Dean some more even when he's out of earshot, and it comes across very much like the "my family won't let me live my life" spiel she gave Sam in "Scarecrow" -- but it's Dean who's most affected. (Sam know that she's talking bullshit, and is already suspicious of her anyway.) As soon as they're alone, Dean confronts Sam, angrily demanding to know if Meg's accusations are true, and why the hell was Sam bitching about Dean to a total stranger. Some viewers, in the wake of this episode, have argued that Dean selfishly desires to keep Sam in the hunt against his will, but this scene seems to deny that interpretation. Dean is visibly hurt and outraged at the possibility that Sam is accompanying him unwillingly. I think Dean would get no joy out of dragging a miserable Sam around against his will, and I think Dean knows this.

In a way, Dean's subsequent (and rather crude) determination to set Sam up romantically (or at least sexually) with Meg comes across as an attempt to reaffirm this denial. "See?" he seems to be saying, "this is me encouraging you to go out and have fun and take a girl out to a poetry reading and get laid, even if she's been a bitch to me. Because I'm an awesome big brother and I'm totally not interfering with your fun or keeping you from having a life, right? Right?"

All of these scenes are interesting in themselves, but they mostly function as the setup for the episode's first big moment -- the conversation that takes place as the boys arm themselves for what they think will be the final confrontation with Ceiling Demon. Now, I know that many viewers felt that the conversation was OOC for Dean, that he revealed too much of himself too easily given his usual vaunted contempt for "chick-flick moments." It worked for me, though, and the reasons it worked go way back to "Scarescrow."

See, I've always thought that Dean had misinterpreted (possibly due to wishful thinking) Sam's words at the end of "Scarecrow." Sam was saying that he intended to stick with Dean for the duration of their quest to find John and defeat Ceiling Demon. But Dean took it to mean that Sam was staying for the long term, that he was committing to the hunt (and to Dean) for good. For a while there, Dean had genuinely believed that he could let go of one of his biggest fears -- Sam was not going to leave him again. Now he abruptly discovers, from a remark that Sam just casually drops into the conversation as if it's not even important, that Sam hadn't changed his mind at all. Sam is still planning to leave when this particular hunt is over. And at that moment, both Sam and Dean believe there's a good chance that this particular hunt will be over that very night. So not only is Sam talking about leaving, he's talking about leaving real soon now. From Dean's point of view, he can't afford to be stoic and repressed on the subject anymore. He doesn't have time. He has to say his piece now or not at all.

Even then, Dean doesn't say anything until Sam asks him a direct question. I'm pretty sure that if Sam hadn't asked, Dean would've kept his mouth shut. But Sam did ask, so what could Dean do? He hates lying to people he's close to (as opposed to strangers). He knows that Sam doesn't deal well with refusal. And at that moment, I don't think he had it in him to manage the sort of snarky, humorous evasion he normally uses to mask his feelings. So he went for the only remaining option -- he actually gave honest answers to Sam's questions.

In response to Sam asking what Dean plans to do when "all this is over," Dean's response is, "It's never gonna be over. There's gonna be others. There's always gonna be something to hunt." This is what all that talk about the family business and being a professional comes down to. For Dean, hunting is not a quest that will end when one specific goal is reached; it's his life's work. He's not just hunting because a demon killed Mom; he's hunting because evil is out there, and will always be out there. Dean's not going to stop hunting after killing one demon any more than a firefighter would put out one fire and say, "okay, I'm done now."

Now, Dean's dedication to hunting really doesn't qualify as a problem or a character flaw. Sure, it's a risky, dangerous job, but he knows the risks and knows how to cope with them. He likes hunting, is good at it, takes pride in it, finds meaning and personal satisfaction in it. So, not a problem. The problems start when Sam asks what else Dean wants for himself. Dean's answer is immediate -- he doesn't want Sam to leave. He wants Sam to keep hunting, and John to come back, and the three of them to "be a family again." And as far as Dean is concerned, being a family means staying together -- living together, traveling together, working together as one team. He can't accept, or even fully understand, the idea of people living separate lives, doing their own thing, and still being a family and loving each other. To him, the only alternative to togetherness is abandonment. This isn't too surprising. After all, Dean's life hasn't exactly provided him with many examples of maintaining relationships at a distance. When Sam left, he broke off all contact. When John disappeared, he broke off all contact. And Mary -- well, you can't break off contact any more effectively than by dying, can you? In Dean's world, people are either right there next to you, or they're gone. No wonder he's terrified by the prospect of Sam going back to school.

So no, Dean's reaction is not surprising, but it's not healthy or realistic either, and it can't bring him anything but unhappiness. Dean's ideal image of one tight-knit family working together will never happen. If it ever existed at all, it must've been years ago, when Sam was too young to want out, when John was the undisputed leader of the Winchesters. But Sam is an adult now. Even if he does decide to keep hunting, it won't be the same, because Sam will never willingly submit to his father's authority again, and because however much Sam and John love each other, they're the sort of people who'll never peacefully coexist in close quarters. Deep down, Dean knows this, even without Sam flat-out saying that he doesn't want things to be the way they were before; he says it himself in "Bugs" when he predicts that Sam and John will be at each other's throats even if Sam finds John and apologizes. But for the time being, Dean's need for family and his fear of being alone get in the way of his acceptance of the true situation.

And for a brief time there, it actually looks as if Dean's going to get what he wants. John reappears, alive and well, and he and Sam appear to reconcile. Dean's face as he watches his father and brother hug is so full of hope, it almost hurts to watch. Whatever might happen in the future, whatever Sam might still want, at that moment all the Winchesters are perfectly slotted into Dean's idea of what a family has to be. It's all he's ever wanted, and it lasts for all of thirty seconds before the daevas attack. In the end, it's Dean who breaks up their newly reforged family bond. He'd just seen John walk into a trap for his sons, and he won't risk it happening again. So Dean let's him go just as, eventually, he'll have to let Sam go. After all, you can't be a family if you're dead, and for Dean family always comes first.
Comments 
26th-Sep-2006 04:34 am (UTC)
*sighs* Man, I just hurt for Dean in this ep.
26th-Sep-2006 05:43 pm (UTC)
I know! Poor baby! *cuddles Dean*
26th-Sep-2006 05:07 am (UTC)
Awesome meta. :D A lot of people always point out how unreasonable Dean is being when he says that he wants his family together and hunting again, but so few look at the basis for Dean's fondest wish is that everytime people leave him, they're not just elsewhere, they're elsewhere and incommunicado. Dean has no example of a functional family to draw from to say, 'well if we can't have this, if you can't be with me all the time, can we have this instead?'

It was really great to see that examined here, because it's so central to Dean and who he is, and it's kind of an injustice to examine Dean, or even this this episode, without actually touching on it. The argument is that Dean is an unreasonable bastard who wants to trap Sam in a life that would make him completely unhappy, with no regard to Sam's own dreams is just... I can't see it in canon, and I think it's a shallow conclusion that doesn't look below the surface.

So yay! I'm really glad to have read this.
26th-Sep-2006 05:51 pm (UTC)
everytime people leave him, they're not just elsewhere, they're elsewhere and incommunicado. Dean has no example of a functional family to draw from to say, 'well if we can't have this, if you can't be with me all the time, can we have this instead?'

Exactly. Dean's view of family and relationships is pretty fucked-up, but it's not as if he randomly pulled it out of his ear, either. He's working from what he knows -- from the only things he knows -- and what he knows is that people go away and don't look back.

And yes, Dean's desire for Sam to stay and hunt is selfish in the sense that he wants it purely for his own sake and not because it's what's best for Sam, but we've seen repeatedly that when push comes to shove, Dean will always suck it up and let Sam go his own way.
(Deleted comment)
26th-Sep-2006 05:51 pm (UTC)
Thanks for reading!
26th-Sep-2006 06:23 am (UTC)
Wonderful wonderful work.

I had never actually made the connection with Scarecrow - that Dean what Dean heard then was I'm here for the long haul. You are so right that:
So not only is Sam talking about leaving, he's talking about leaving real soon now. From Dean's point of view, he can't afford to be stoic and repressed on the subject anymore. He doesn't have time. He has to say his piece now or not at all.
And remember not only does Sam's leaving seem imminent - John is still totally absent too. Dean is facing is biggest fear - no family - of coruse this will drive him to a point where he speaks of what he wants?

Ah - all these fantastic metas this week! This little meta whore is so happy!
26th-Sep-2006 05:55 pm (UTC)
And remember not only does Sam's leaving seem imminent - John is still totally absent too. Dean is facing is biggest fear - no family - of coruse this will drive him to a point where he speaks of what he wants

Right. We the viewers know that John is about to show up, because we've seen JDM's name in the opening credits :-P. But as far as Dean can see at that point, John's still MIA and Sam's got one foot out the door. That whose scene is Dean's desperation talking.
26th-Sep-2006 11:20 am (UTC)
You know, you may have accomplished the impossible, and turned me around on that scene. This is the best, most concise and LOGICAL explanation of it I have read:

Now he abruptly discovers, from a remark that Sam just casually drops into the conversation as if it's not even important, that Sam hadn't changed his mind at all. Sam is still planning to leave when this particular hunt is over. And at that moment, both Sam and Dean believe there's a good chance that this particular hunt will be over that very night. So not only is Sam talking about leaving, he's talking about leaving real soon now. From Dean's point of view, he can't afford to be stoic and repressed on the subject anymore. He doesn't have time. He has to say his piece now or not at all.

Thank you for sharing your thoughts!
26th-Sep-2006 05:57 pm (UTC)
Thank you for reading! I'm glad my thoughts made sense. I was very affected by that scene in "Shadow," and was kind of surprised afterwards at how many people disliked it, but then I remembered that I'd rewatched "Scarecrow" just the day before "Shadow" aired, so that ending scene fresh in my mind, which I think made a big difference.
26th-Sep-2006 12:04 pm (UTC)
I think I love you. :) Awesome meta.

Some viewers, in the wake of this episode, have argued that Dean selfishly desires to keep Sam in the hunt against his will,

Because he didn`t validate practically Sam`s whole stance in the Scarecrow made up phone call and he didn`t leave him alone for two years at Stanford? I thought it came through pretty clear that he wants Sam to want it too and yes that`s an unrealistic hope but desiring something and actually going through with it are two very different things.

And right now Sam isn`t there by anything but his own will. To view it like Dean dragging Sam around would ultimately undermine Sam IMO as the poor pathetic victim of his mean bully brother. And that is so not who Sam is.

Actually I was annoyed with Sam in the first Meg scene because when someone is ripping into my friends, I speak up, either for them or for the other side if I agree. I don`t just stand there like a sheep.

But Sam did ask, so what could Dean do?

Exactly, he asked, he got an answer. Wasn`t the one he wanted obviously but I don`t see why Dean didn`t have a right to answer truthfully. Even if again it was an unrealistic dream scenario he deep down must know himself is never gonna work out. And totally, it can only bring him nothing but heartbreak but unless he gets to a place where he learns to accept that out of sight doesn`t mind out of mind/heart, that`s simply how it`s gonna be.
If Sam can state what he wants, so can Dean. And he was quite frankly self-fixated and brutally honest here.

My impression was that Sam wished for Dean to admit to something like he wanted, that deep-down Dean really just wanted to get out of it too. And that was simply never gonna come. Because they don`t have the same values/philosophies.

I had trouble with how Sam chose to express himself here, not with the actual points he made. That`s a huge difference.
26th-Sep-2006 06:08 pm (UTC)
I thought it came through pretty clear that he wants Sam to want it too and yes that`s an unrealistic hope but desiring something and actually going through with it are two very different things.

Exactly. Dean doesn't want to trap Sam in a life Sam hates -- he wants Sam to stop hating it. And that's not something Sam can ever be coerced or manipulated into doing -- it can only happen of his own free will if it ever happens at all.

My impression was that Sam wished for Dean to admit to something like he wanted, that deep-down Dean really just wanted to get out of it too.

Yeah, I have a whole separate meta brewing about how Sam and Dean relate to each other and to people in general, and one of the things I want to address is that Sam tends to project his own values and responses onto other people. He can't wrap his mind around the idea of actually wanting to hunt -- not for vengeance, not from unwilling submission to duty or authority, but from sincere conviction -- and so he can't believe that Dean wants it. He's convinced that deep down, Dean must want the same things Sam wants, he just needs to be coaxed into admitting it.

I know that Sam wants Dean to be happy, and I totally give him props for being probably the only person who actually bothered to ask Dean what he wanted. But asking's not enough if you then reject the answer just because it's not what you think the answer should be.
26th-Sep-2006 02:21 pm (UTC)
Fantastic meta!

And as far as Dean is concerned, being a family means staying together -- living together, traveling together, working together as one team.

On the other hand, when we first meet the adult Dean in the Pilot, he's coming from a solo job in New Orleans, and from the way he talks about it, it doesn't seem like a big deal to him. Dean doesn't seem to have a problem with working or traveling alone, at least in the beginning of the season. It didn't become a real problem until John went missing, told Dean they were all in danger, and stopped contacting Dean.

In the end, it's Dean who breaks up their newly reforged family bond.

Between this and the phone conversation with San in Scarecrow, Dean has more than demonstrated that he can let his family go. It ticks me off when Sam tells him (in Shadow) that Dean has to let him go. Dean already let Sam go, twice. It hurt both times, but he did it. I feel that Sam is the one asking for something unreasonable here--he wants Dean to let him go, and be happy about it. And that's not going to happen.
26th-Sep-2006 05:12 pm (UTC)
Dean doesn't seem to have a problem with working or traveling alone, at least in the beginning of the season. It didn't become a real problem until John went missing, told Dean they were all in danger, and stopped contacting Dean.

Oooh. This is a really good point, and bodes quite well for Dean's handling of the eventual split-up of the family, as long as he's reassurred that they'll still have contact and see each other and whatnot. Honestly, I think he's more well-adjusted than he's given credit for sometimes. :)
26th-Sep-2006 03:12 pm (UTC)
Nicely done!
26th-Sep-2006 06:17 pm (UTC)
Thanks!
26th-Sep-2006 05:10 pm (UTC)
*applauds* This is excellent. Like monkiedude said... I've never liked the teary scene in the hotel, and your explanation of it is the first acceptable one I've read, ever. Awesome. I might actually like that scene now. (Well, I always liked watching Ackles do it; I just never liked it for characterization reasons.) And word, to Dean as a professional and the idea that Dean's never seen a relationship work when it wasn't close-quarters (ie, the ways Mary, John and Sam all left him). I totally agree with pretty much everything. Great job! :)
26th-Sep-2006 06:18 pm (UTC)
Thank you! It's always good when the crazy thoughts in my head make sense to other people. :-)
26th-Sep-2006 06:45 pm (UTC)
Lovely meta here. Nicely done! Some good insights into Dean.

A few thoughts on your thoughts …

Not surprisingly, the two most important points in the picture are Dean's relationship with his family and his commitment to hunting. And of the two, hunting seems a lot saner and healthier.

And that’s pretty sad, isn’t it? Poor, broken Dean. *hugs Dean*

Well said.

From Dean's point of view, he can't afford to be stoic and repressed on the subject anymore. He doesn't have time. He has to say his piece now or not at all.

That’s a good interpretation of why Dean went ahead and bared his soul to Sam in that scene. While I wasn’t 100-percent convinced Dean would be so emo, it didn’t really bother me. Bothers me even less now that I’ve read your take on it. *g*

Dean's not going to stop hunting after killing one demon any more than a firefighter would put out one fire and say, "okay, I'm done now."

Word. And you know, that single-minded devotion to making the world a better place is extremely noble. And hot. I want to alternately hug him and feel him up.

*pauses*

Did I say that out loud?

In Dean's world, people are either right there next to you, or they're gone.

Yup. He isn’t too good at shades of grey or compromise.

So no, Dean's reaction is not surprising, but it's not healthy or realistic either, and it can't bring him anything but unhappiness.

So much word here.

Word!

Dean's face as he watches his father and brother hug is so full of hope, it almost hurts to watch.

Yeah, and the other thing that struck me in that scene was the look on his face when the daevas (sp?) attacked John and Sam, and the way he screamed “No!” You could see how horrified he was at the thought that here they were, finally back together, and now they might die. (Or more specifically, Sam and John might die.)

So Dean let's him go just as, eventually, he'll have to let Sam go. After all, you can't be a family if you're dead, and for Dean family always comes first.

Yeah. Beautifully stated.

Oh, Dean.

*drags Dean way for a severe cuddling*
26th-Sep-2006 07:04 pm (UTC)
drags Dean way for a severe cuddling

I think you might have to get in line. :-)
27th-Sep-2006 10:01 am (UTC)
I agree wholeheartedly. I really love your explanation on how Dean views hunting and family, and why he reacts to Sam as he does. Hunting for Dean is a choice he's made, even if it seems he was bred into the role. What he wants for himself, as he said in the first episode, is not to do it alone.
27th-Sep-2006 04:35 pm (UTC)
You know, I think that deep down, Sam and Dean both want the same thing -- to have their family support and approve of their life choices. It's just that for Sam approval means having John and Dean say, "yes, Sam, go with our blessings," while for Dean it means having John and Sam say, "yes, Dean, we're right there with you all the way."
28th-Sep-2006 04:18 am (UTC)
Thanks so much for posting this. I'm kind of at the fringes of Supernatural fandom and am still working my way through the episodes, let alone fandom, but I really love how you've tied job with family.

This is absolutely spectacular. Thanks again.
28th-Sep-2006 08:30 pm (UTC)
Thank you! "Shadow" is one of my favorite Dean episodes, and I'm always happy to ramble on about it.
28th-Sep-2006 08:06 am (UTC)
This is an excellent discussion on Dean’s perspective. You’ve given me lots to think about. Thank you.
28th-Sep-2006 08:31 pm (UTC)
Thanks! Always happy to provide some food for thought. :-)
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