Real quick A/N: This is my first "official" attempt at meta, so I appreciate any constructive criticism for better metaing in the future. Y'all seem like nice people, and I figured I wouldn't learn until I tried! Thanks for reading.
If That's What it Takes: Dean in "Dead Man's Blood"
The first real hunt we see John Winchester in with Dean and Sam is in “Dead Man’s Blood.” With John finally around for a hunt, the real family dynamics start to unfold. More specifically, Dean’s role in his family is made crystal clear. The viewers finally get a chance to see how Dean takes on many different responsibilities within his family, from his father’s side kick to family counselor. The depths of Dean’s layers start to peel away as we see just how important protecting his family is to him.
The moment John enters the picture, Dean is in full soldier mode. John jumps into the hunt out of nowhere, immediately laying down instructions about vampires. Dean listens to his father’s instructions, never once questioning where he found his information. Sam is the one that asks John a lot of questions. No one is really surprised by this encounter, considering that Sam has always rebelled, and Dean has always obeyed. Yet, this encounter also shines some light on how Dean and John must have hunted in the past. John did most of the explaining, and Dean did most of the following. He does not question John because he trusts his father’s guidance and experience. He also knows his father’s methods, stating that Daniel Elkins carved the combination to a safe deposit box the same way John does. With John, Dean is the apprentice, and John is the master.
Also, despite his current adventures in hunting, Dean is still inexperienced compared to John. Dean comments that “walking in is not our best option” when they finally find the vampire nest, only to have John come back with “That’s the plan.” Plus, the “my machete is bigger than yours” moment before they enter the nest is a humorous, visual example of John’s experience compared to Dean. Dean’s machete pales in comparison to the size of John’s machete (yeah, thanks Kripke, we get the innuendo). The fact that Dean didn’t believe in vampires in the first place shows that there are still many aspects of hunting that he has not experienced or figured out.
The viewers are given biased anecdotes about their father from the brothers up until this episode. For instance, Sam has brought up more than once Dean’s need for John’s approval. Now that John is involved, the viewers see that Dean does strive to please him, but not because he craves praise (he is obviously in the wrong business if that’s the case). The moment John compliments the boys about covering their tracks, Dean responds with “we’ve learned from the best.” He does not bask in the glory of a compliment or fish for more from his father, but instead, he gives John the respect he feels John deserves. Nor does he seek his approval because he is insecure about his relationship with his father. He has always had a relatively smooth relationship with John compared to Sam. Similarly, protecting Sam is so important to Dean, and has been his entire life, that any rivalry for John’s attention seems a bit contradictory. Dean strives to please John because he wants to prove that he is capable of handling the responsibilities John has bestowed upon him. A small example of this is the look of embarrassment Dean has on his face when John criticizes the state of the Impala (“I wouldn’t have given you the damn thing if I thought you were going to ruin it.”). The Impala has always been important to Dean, which more than likely stems from the fact that it came from his father more than the type and model of the car (not that he doesn’t love that it is a classic car). Yet, John was right, the Impala started to take a turn for the worse as the season progressed. Dean does not want to impress his father; he just does not want to let him down.
Another role the viewers finally get to see is Dean’s role as the mediator. At first glance, Dean seemed to spend most of his time defending John to Sam in previous episodes. However, in this episode, it is made apparent that Dean was never choosing sides but mediating. The argument scene, which also strategically placed Dean in the middle of Sam and John, gave the audience a distinct example of the kind of tension Dean had to deal with in the past. He not only stands up to Sam whenever Sam starts to rebel, but he also stands up to his father, demanding that John cool it, too.
Strangely enough, Dean’s interjection stops the argument enough for the three to go about their business, considering how quickly the argument escalated. Sam and John do not apologize. Dean does not sit down and get the two to talk about their feelings. But had Dean not stepped in the middle, who knows how much further the fight might have gone. Obviously, this is not the first time Dean has interjected, and it seems as if John and Sam are used to it because of how quickly they listen to Dean without really getting him involved in the argument. If Dean had not gotten Sam involved in the search for John, Sam and John may have remained not speaking to one another for years. Which begs the question - did John think Dean would track Sam down to help find him when he went missing? If so, John relies heavily on Dean to help him pick up the pieces with Sam. Dean seems to be taken for granted as a peacemaker.
However, Dean does not seem to mind or notice that he is taken for granted for one reason. He needs his family and wants them to stay together more than anything. The perfect example of this is his comment “if that’s what it takes” when Sam asks if Dean plans to always follow John’s orders. The viewers know from previous episodes that Dean will do whatever it takes to protect his family. He will stick around if it means he gets to stay with his family. Dean’s unique family is more of a home than he has ever had. Despite the tension and the evil that he faces every day, Dean’s family is the only stability he has in his life. What Dean knows best is how take care of Sammy and how to help his father.
Another big example of protecting his family is Dean’s willingness to ignore John’s orders. From the way Sam speaks of Dean’s passivity with John, the viewers are lead to believe that Dean would listen to John’s orders regardless of their direction, yet Dean immediately, although respectfully, stands up to John when John orders the boys to leave after they take care of the vampire nest. More so, he argues with John, stating they are “stronger as a family” and that as long as the boys are around John “can’t be as reckless.” Obviously, had Sam and Dean not shown up when they did, Luther and the gang would have killed John. Dean is more concerned with saving his father than pleasing him.
With the three Winchester men finally together in a hunt, the audience gets a full viewing of Dean’s role within his family. He is still learning the ropes of hunting, taking on the responsibilities his father gives him, and mediating family tension, all for the sake of keeping his family together.