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Supernatural is truth
1x02: Wendigo: John 
18th-May-2006 06:32 pm
SPN: John


John Winchester doesn't actually appear in "Wendigo," but his presence looms large throughout the episode. He's the reason Dean and Sam come to Blackwater Ridge in the first place, following the coordinates they find in John's journal in the pilot. At first, the boys expect to actually find John in Colorado. They've realized that his disappearance must be connected to Ceiling Demon's sudden reemergence, and they're anxious to find him. It's telling that whatever their respective feelings about their father might be, both Sam and Dean are convinced that if they find John, John will fix everything. "Dad'll have the answers, Dad'll know what to do," Dean says with total confidence, and Sam doesn't contradict him. Whatever anyone might think of John's parenting methods, there's no denying that his children not only love him but have an unshakable faith in him.

In the pilot, almost everything we learned about John came from Sam, who described him as being entirely obsessed with vengeance. In "Wendigo" we get to hear Dean's view of his father, and Dean earnestly talks about "saving people, hunting things" as "the family business." Dean seems to view John the way he sees himself -- a protector of all innocent people who are threatened by the supernatural. Dean's notions of duty and protectiveness didn't develop in a vacuum; I think John, as a Marine who's been in combat, held those values long before Mary was murdered. The endless quest for vengeance came after.

This is the first episode where John's journal assumes its canonical importance. It functions as a sort of stand-in for John, providing instructions and information to his boys, and by examining the journal we can draw some conclusions about the man who made it. And the first conclusion that leaps to my mind is one that for some reason doesn't get a lot of discussion in John-centric meta: John Winchester is a total research geek.

Seriously. According to Dean, that journal is John's most valued possession. It's filled margin-to-margin with writing, clippings, old photos and sketches, and it contains "everything he knows about every evil thing." It's not just an impersonal set of survival instructions, either -- John took the time to write down the linguistic derivation of the word "Wendigo," even though it's not exactly relevant to how to hunt the thing.

Continuing with their pattern of complete confidence in John's knowledge and hunting ability, both Sam and Dean work on the assumption that if it's written in the journal, it must be true. When Sam first begins to suspect that they're dealing with a Wendigo, he asks to see the journal to double-check his conclusion. Later, when explaining Wendigo lore to Haley and her brother, he consults the journal again.

The actual pages he looks at have a lot of closely-spaced notes and a stylized sketch of a Wendigo as well as some Native American symbols. I'm inclined to assume that those are the symbols Sam and Dean later draw in the dirt to make the protective circle, but that's not actually specified. In any case, I think it's telling that John didn't just scribble down the bare-bones facts about his subject, but made detailed notes and drew pictures. The few shots of the journal we get in the pilot also show pages filled with lots of writing, sketches and diagrams.

The thing is, we know that John never came to Blackwater Ridge himself, and he never found out that the monster there was a Wendigo -- that was something Sam figured out after observing its behavior on-site. So the Wendigo notes in the Journal must've been either from research for an earlier case or just general information gathering. John seems to make a habit of looking through obituaries and odd newspaper stories from all over the country, figuring out connections and patters, doing the background research on possible monsters, and then writing it all down so that he has the information handy when he gets around to investigating. In other words, John does precisely the kind of work that inspires Dean to make snide remarks about geeky college boys when Sam does it. There's no indication that John himself had any higher education. But I think we can get a good idea of where Sam inherited his geeky Stanford-scholarship brain from.

One question worth considering is, when exactly did John write down those coordinates for Dean? Did he do it before or after he caught Ceiling Demon's trail and decided to disappear? If before, then the Wendigo job was probably meant as just another solo gig for Dean like the one in New Orleans. If after, then it was probably a deliberate attempt to send Dean off his trail and keep him busy, which means John anticipated that Dean (and possibly Sam) would come looking for him and was already determined not to let them find him. I lean toward the latter explanation, but the episode doesn't establish it either way.

What can we learn about John Winchester from an episode he's not even in? It seems we can learn that he's a big old academic geek trapped in a macho ex-Marine's body; that even the people closest to him can view his character very differently; and that his children think he knows everything.
Comments 
19th-May-2006 01:37 am (UTC)
Geek! I completely never noticed that about John, but you are so completely right. He is a research geek!

No wonder we love him. ;-)
19th-May-2006 01:56 am (UTC)
It's a lovely stealth character trait, isn't it? The show hits us over the head with "tough, vengeful ex-Marine," but the only time we get an actual mention of John's l33t research skills is in "Scarecrow," when Dean comments on the immense amount of work John must've done to connect the pattern of missing couples. And then Sam and Dean have their big fight, so the comment kind of gets lost. And yet, that journal is an amazing piece of work, a little mini-encyclopedia of American monster lore. And John doesn't just write about things he personally encountered -- we see in "Wendigo," "Asylum," and "The Benders" that he also writes down any odd patterns he spots for future reference.

*cuddles Geek!John*
19th-May-2006 02:51 am (UTC)
They did a really good job with making John a combination of Sam and Dean -- making Sam and Dean like their dad, in different ways. It's great that the show's creators lok like they put an extra effort into making these three obviously and subtly part of a family (rather than most tv shows where they go "ok, pretend these three are related....")
19th-May-2006 04:36 am (UTC)
That's so true. I've seen so many "family dramas" in movies and TV that made me go, "I don't believe these people are related. I don't even believe these people have ever met before." But the Winchesters -- totally convincing as a family.
19th-May-2006 02:40 am (UTC)
*goggles* Wow. I mean, Wow. Of course John's a BOG (big old geek)...but I don't think anyone's ever SAID it. Brava!

Though, if I recall, in "Home", when the boys are talking to Mike, Mike says that their dad started researching all sorts of odd things...meaning the supernatural things. Hm....
19th-May-2006 04:34 am (UTC)
Now I want geek!John fic. I want John and Sam bonding over their shared delight in some particularly cool find in a library, while Dean rolls his eyes and mutters snarky comments under his breath.
19th-May-2006 04:45 am (UTC)
*snicker* I can probably do that. There's a ficathon being proposed for JDM, and if the prompts are right *hint hint*, this'll be my story for John.
19th-May-2006 03:58 am (UTC)
Oh, I love the revisions! You have such an awesome eye for detail! (A definite upside to obsession, yes. *g*)

when exactly did John write down those coordinates for Dean?

NICE. I'm going to mull this a little before I chime in but? Definitely a cool question to consider.

You kick ass. High five.
19th-May-2006 04:32 am (UTC)
I'm going to mull this a little before I chime in but? Definitely a cool question to consider.

I look forward to reading your thoughts. It kind of occurred to me at the last moment, but it really is an interesting question to ponder, especially if you consider that if John *had* intended it as just another solo gig for Dean, and the Ceiling Demon hadn't reappeared, Dean woul've gone to Colorado without Sam and there wouldn't have been anyone there to save him in the Wendigo's cave.
19th-May-2006 05:13 am (UTC)
Aw, Papa Winchester and Sammy are alike in yet another fashion -- geekiness! XD I agree that must be where the boy got his Stanford brain.
21st-May-2006 04:13 am (UTC)
Sam and John definitely have more in common than just stubborness and an amazing ability to hold grudges against Ceiling Demons. :-)
19th-May-2006 09:26 am (UTC)
Oooh, Geeky!John, that's something I never considered before. Well done!
21st-May-2006 04:11 am (UTC)
Thank you! And I love your icon!
21st-May-2006 03:51 am (UTC)
Here from the newsletter. :) Excellent meta. It's something that doesn't surprise me, but needed to be put into words: John's a thinker. Which seems right in oh so many ways, not least of which is his ability to strategise, and also it plays nicely in unbalancing the 'Dad and Dean with Sam as outsider' situation we started off with.
21st-May-2006 04:10 am (UTC)
Thanks! And yeah, I think the journal is the first indication we get that Sam and John aren't as different as we (and Sam himself) think.
21st-May-2006 03:55 am (UTC)
Remember when Dean and Sam enter the room they figured out John had rented in The Pilot? They found the journal then. He wrote them down in his journal, which was pointed out to Dean by the sheriff in The Pilot. Dean kept saying it was his locker combination. But later on when he called Sam after breaking out, he tells Sam that dad left the same message 'coordinates' which they say at the same time. Sam figures out the where towards the end of The Pilot and it picks up again in Wendigo.
21st-May-2006 04:09 am (UTC)
Yeah, I get that John wrote the coordinates down in the journal sometime before he abandoned the motel room in Jericho. What I'm wondering is, how *long* before? Did he already know by then that he was going to disappear on the trail of Ceiling Demon, or hadn't he gotten that far yet?
21st-May-2006 02:02 pm (UTC)
This is awesome, and yeah, it is generally agreed that Sam is most like his dad, and that's why they clash so much. Aww, Dean raised a geek. *laughs*

I think they did do a fantastic job of picking these guys out. I know JDM is wayy too young to be their dad [well, maybe he could be Jared's dad, 16 is kind of pushing it though.] but he really does look enough like both of them [especially if you watch Grey's, he's tall, and kind of lanky, and has the prettiest smile, you can totally see where they were coming from, Jared-wise] and I love the idea that they are carefully putting this much thought into how they act as well. Excellent Meta!
21st-May-2006 05:03 pm (UTC)
Yeah, JDM's age nonwithstanding, I think the show's done an excellent job of casting and writing all three Winchesters as an extremely believable family.

And JDM's smile makes me melt every time I see it.
23rd-May-2006 11:09 pm (UTC)
This is awesome. I totally have to work this into a fic now. geek!John. *loves*

And the line at the end, where the boys think he knows everything - what a slap in the face it must be when he gets something wrong. I don't think they ever really got over that "parents are god" mindset, at least not for a long time, because John is their only point of reference in the world of the supernatural.
24th-May-2006 12:20 am (UTC)
Yes, the normal hero-worship that many children feel toward their parents is way magnified with the Winchesters. After all, in their case Dad really does kill the scary monsters. So when he made mistakes about ordinary, non-hunting things, it must've seemed that much more like a let-down and contributed to his conflict with Sam.
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