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A Room of His Own – Supernatural 8.14

February 18, 2013

We just got back from an academic conference on popular culture, where we heard and shared lots of thinky thoughts on fandom and Supernatural. When talk turned to the last episode, however, thinky thoughts sort of dissolved into squee – and why not? “Trial and Error” was the most emotional episode we’ve seen in a long time.

It’s been a while since SPN took me on a roller coaster ride with enough twists and turns and ups and downs to literally leave me breathless, overwhelmed with emotion. A while since I forgot that the television couldn’t talk back (like the internet) and started yelling “WHAT? OMG Dean, NOOOO!” and “YES! Go Sammy GOOOOO!” I used to keep a box of tissues within grabbing distance when I watched Show – I had to go grab one for this episode. That’s how I know that Andrew Dabb did a kickass job of writing, and that Ackles, Padalecki and company made me forget they were acting.

The episode drew some of its emotional impact from its monster of the week. Hellhounds aren’t just any MOTW. They’re the monsters that killed Dean and dragged him to hell. He’s afraid of them. So we are too. They’re the things that took Sam’s brother away from him, right in front of his helpless and agonized eyes. He hates them. We do too. That the genius FX folks brought the hellhound to life so that we could see it when Dean or Sam could see it made it all the more personal – and terrifying. Talk about having your heart in your throat! (I might have screamed a little. Okay, more than a little.)

The guest actors were top notch and Kevin Parks’ directing debut was flawless and Padalecki and Ackles look hot as hell in glasses. But what really got to me – and this will be a surprise to absolutely no one – were the scenes between the brothers. (The sounds I made during those were probably too high pitched for anything but dogs to hear. Luckily.) The dialogue gave us – and the brothers – insight into who they are now, something fans crave but don’t often get. The Winchesters’ unfortunate propensity to be men of few words when it comes to talking to each other can be frustrating for all of us listening in.

Having a home, and with it the luxury of a little down time, has given both brothers a chance for self-reflection, something neither indulges in too often. For Sam, sharing living space with his brother evokes familiar scenes from his childhood. The Winchesters may not have had a home of their own, but the glimpses we’ve seen of their childhood show us that wherever they were, Dean took care of Sam. Being in the bunker gives Dean an opportunity to return to a caretaking role, something that’s core to his identity. He cooks for Sam, and Sam appreciates the gesture – and the burgers. There’s a fondness there between the brothers that we haven’t seen overtly expressed recently, and a boyish side of Sam that we only glimpse occasionally as he runs back to grab his burger and stuff it in his mouth.

The solidarity and stability of a physical home has a psychological impact on both Dean and Sam. We all need that sense of security that a ‘safe space’ provides, but the Winchesters have rarely had it – their home had four wheels and never stayed in one place too long. The safety of the bunker, both physical and psychological, has let Dean and Sam be more open with each other, each allowing a measure of vulnerability. Sam feels less like he has to prove something, more secure with his own abilities and especially his intellectual prowess. Less like a freak, more like a strong, smart, capable man. He can comfortably indulge (and reap the benefits) when Dean wants to ‘big brother’ him.

Dean too is more vulnerable here than he’s let himself be before. We’ve seen him drop his overly macho posturing (in his LARPing glory and in his interactions with Aaron when he thought he was having ‘a gay thing’) in recent episodes, and in Trial and Error he’s able to indulge his caretaking side, even admit to Sam outright that he’s “nesting”. He decorates his room, makes his bed, displays his favorite possessions. He puts out a photo of himself as a young boy with his mother. (We won’t talk about how many tissues that necessitated.) The photo anchors the space as his own, something Dean hasn’t had since the time that photo was taken. Something he’s never been able to let himself want or feel he deserved. His joy over having a memory foam mattress isn’t a coincidence – “it remembers me” he confides to Sam with a grin. Unlike the string of motels he’s lived in most of his life, this place is theirs. It remembers them. It’s a place to come back to, waiting and remembering.

A more defended Dean would have denied wanting such a thing and scoffed at that sort of vulnerability, although Ackles has always let us know that underneath Dean’s tough guy exterior, the vulnerability was always there. Now that the bunker and its legacy have brought a bit of security to their lives, Dean is able to let some of that side of his character show.

And Sam is so comfortable he’s able to pull a stereotypical little brother trick and ‘accidentally’ mess up his big brother’s spotless new room.

The photo of Dean and Mary is significant to Sam as well. It’s a reminder of the brothers’ shared past, the ties that bind them together, by blood and by all the times they’ve saved each other and made sacrifices for each other. With their loyalty to each other tested by Benny’s alternative ‘blood brother’ tie and Amelia and Sam’s attempt to establish a home, the reminder seems powerful here. Sam’s gaze lingers on the photo, and he too seems anchored by their shared past, re-establishing the bond between them and bringing a fondness to their interactions that was missing for a while.

Fandom has expressed a strong need for Sam to save Dean this season, but Sam has needed it even more, ever since he had to stand by and watch hellhounds tear his brother apart and drag him to hell. This episode is pivotal for Sam, as he doesn’t allow Dean to make another sacrifice, instead using his newly shored up comfort in his own brains and brawn to bring down the hellhound himself and save his brother. His success – and his determination to do so – is healing for both of them. As much as Sam needed to save Dean, Dean needed to be saved – needed to allow himself to be saved. By Sam. Sam needed to see himself not only as the little brother who Dean takes care of – he can enjoy that role sometimes and be comfortable with it – but he can also be the ‘big brother’, the one who takes care of Dean. And he wants to.

Both brothers, by letting go of some of their defenses and allowing themselves to be vulnerable, show more flexibility in their roles with each other. Dean let Sam see just how much having a room of his own meant; Sam was able to remind him of that to pull Dean back in, to convince him to stay alive and stay with Sam. They’re both more fully realized people (and characters) as a result. This episode blurs the false dichotomy of brains versus brawn that was never Dean and Sam. Sam may be a brilliant research geek, but he’s also a badass who can take out a hellhound and save the day, wearing geeky hipster glasses no less. Dean may be a badass with a swagger, willing to walk into a suicide mission if needed, but as Sam rightly points out, he’s also a genius. They both are.

Dean has needed to hear Sam tell him that for a long time, ever since Sam’s demon blood addiction effectively switched their places as far as who was the stronger one, big brother or not. Now when they switch places, it’s because they’re equals, not because Sam needs to one-down Dean in order to be the hero. And not because Dean needs to prove himself the ‘best hunter’. They’re both smart and strong, brains and brawn. And they’re finally both realizing it.

And now I need that box of tissues again, damn it.

17 Comments leave one →
  1. Kathy permalink
    February 18, 2013 4:23 pm

    “The safety of the bunker, both physical and psychological, has let Dean and Sam be more open with each other, each allowing a measure of vulnerability. Sam feels less like he has to prove something, more secure with his own abilities and especially his intellectual prowess. Less like a freak, more like a strong, smart, capable man. He can comfortably indulge (and reap the benefits) when Dean wants to ‘big brother’ him.

    Dean too is more vulnerable here than he’s let himself be before. We’ve seen him drop his overly macho posturing (in his LARPing glory and in his interactions with Aaron when he thought he was having ‘a gay thing’) in recent episodes, and in Trial and Error he’s able to indulge his caretaking side, even admit to Sam outright that he’s “nesting”. He decorates his room, makes his bed, displays his favorite possessions. He puts out a photo of himself as a young boy with his mother. (We won’t talk about how many tissues that necessitated.) The photo anchors the space as his own, something Dean hasn’t had since the time that photo was taken. Something he’s never been able to let himself want or feel he deserved. His joy over having a memory foam mattress isn’t a coincidence – “it remembers me” he confides to Sam with a grin. Unlike the string of motels he’s lived in most of his life, this place is theirs. It remembers them. It’s a place to come back to, waiting and remembering.”

    Beautiful wrap up. I so agree with your analysis of what having that bunker/home is doing for their characters. Good thing I had a kleenex in my pocket while reading this. I’ve finally learned that I need to keep them nearby whenever I am reading something SPN related.

    And I too sometimes forget this is TV. I’ve admitted before that these two are like ‘my boys’ and I feel everything for them that a mother would her own. (Okay, I admit to dipping in the shallow pool occasionally too-I am human!) So this episode hit me so hard. I mean the credits weren’t even over when Dean was putting that picture on the night stand and I was done for. And I was crying for an hour after it was over while trying to discuss it with my friend. So the home theme is just beautiful to me and makes me so happy for them.

    Thanks again for the review. Now I’m teary typing too! My own boys(well men in their 20’s) think I’m going over the deep end I think.

  2. February 18, 2013 6:01 pm

    All I can say is I love both my boys. The ‘room’ tickled me, his mattress remembers him. I hope that picture doesnt come back to haunt Dean..if it falls into the wrong hands. I feel by Sammy killing that hellhound, he proved all that Dean was & him. They are both Winchesters, after all. They are grown up men too.

  3. Sue Ashworth permalink
    February 18, 2013 6:57 pm

    I am so happy to see Show pull out all the emotional overtones that it used to have. We’ve got the brothers back as they used to be. They have each others’ backs, and complement each other instead of fighting. It’s gladdened my heart even as it brought the familiar lump to my throat. I hadn’t much respect for Andrew Dabb’s work with some of the scripts he’s been credited with writing, but this one showed that he does in fact understand the show. I hope that continues.

    This show has compelled me from the very first episode. I understand Kathy’s (above) feeling like the boys are her kids. That’s how I’ve felt. I was thinking in the earlier part of this very disjointed season that I really needed to put it away and forget it, and then, damn! They did this, and I am back, involved and in love with the show.

    So we have another season after this one. I hope that they can continue to knock it out of the park the way they have done with the last four episodes and forget about setting the two boys against each other. They have far too much to do right now. First they need to close the gates of hell and then they need to close the gates of heaven. I’m very hopeful that will take up all their time and leave them none for squabbling.

  4. Heidi permalink
    February 18, 2013 7:17 pm

    My initial reaction was very much like yours. I really enjoyed the episode, especially the lovely brotherly moments and scenes of Dean nesting. But in terms of plot, something’s been niggling at me all weekend and, after reading some of the online comments, I finally figured out what. This would have worked great as a standalone episode. But within the larger context of the ongoing storylines and characters, I think it would have made more sense for the writing staff not to limit the trials and closing the hell gates to just one brother. Both their lives have been so profoundly impacted by demons, it’d be nice for them to put an end to that evil as a true partnership on equal footing. Sam still could have saved Dean from the second hell hound and he could have chosen to do the ritual along with Dean. But now,, even though Dean will obviously help, the real onus is on Sam’s shoulders. I don’t see how watching Sam struggle through something Dean felt was his burden to bear is going to lift Dean’s spirits or cure his esteem issues or change his fatalism. I don’t think Dean believes it either so much as he capitulated because Sam asked.

    So, I dont’ know- maybe there’ll turn out to be a good reason why it had to be just Sam with Dean providing back up. Guess we’ll just have to see how it all plays out….

  5. Connie permalink
    February 18, 2013 8:12 pm

    I really appreciated that the episode showed that fondness that they have. And the writing of Dean’s speech at the end and Sam’s response was wonderful. I have been enjoying this season but this episode had all the elements that made it not just a show I watched but something that captured me by the writing and the performances. It funny that they have done these elaborate costumed shows yet simple pairs of glasses and I am swooning.

  6. Ann permalink
    February 18, 2013 8:16 pm

    I totally agree with all the comments above. It’s so good to see the boys back together. I admit I too feel as if the boys are mine. I would be so proud. I have a pic on my phone and people ask me if they are my sons. I wish. Can’t wait to see more of these special moments. Get the kleenex ready.

  7. rabi permalink
    February 18, 2013 8:34 pm

    Last episode was awwwsom, was very touchy i cried :”( Dean’s room ♥ OH MY GOD For the first time he has a place he can call his own. It was so touching watching him putting up his room ,specially wahen he keeps his MOM pic in his room ,muaaaaaaah just love this

  8. magichappening permalink
    February 19, 2013 1:08 am

    Hi Kathy, Lynne et al. I loved the story of the last episode, even if I did have issues with the heavy handedness of the actual script…thank you for this review. It helped me further sort out some of my reactions to the The Brothers Winchester(ov)’s latest trials.

    I had not realised that Fandom had expressed the need for Sammy to save Dean, – but, now that you point it out, I get it. Since Dean was, literally, torn from him at the end of Season 3, Sam has needed to be there for Dean – at least in his own eyes. I know people have been upset about Sam not looking for Dean in the intervening year…maybe this is an opportunity for redemption in Sam’s mind as well. Not for finding love with Amelia. But for being unable to prevent Lilith from collecting on Dean’s debt…

    Maybe these trials, echoes of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire tho they may have, are something that Sam needs to go through – both for himself, but also to prove to Dean, that he feels equally strongly about his brother, tho he expresses it in less self-flagellating ways…

    And Dean? Dean loves Sam. And even tho he is devastated by Sam’s having been able to go on and be able to live without him…he was willing to revert to default and sacrifice himself to ensure Sammy lives, and lives without threat.

    But he forgets he raised a strong, loving younger brother. And that younger brother will do what his older brother taught him…he will give everything for his family; for the person who has always given everything for him. And why wouldn’t he? That is what Dean has done for Sam, so is it a surprise that Sam will do the same for Dean?

    Perhaps this is where, finally, when trial, test and challenge have been succeeded by trial, test and challenge, and the brothers still stand, backs to each other.. perhaps this is where the relationship of the brothers finally comes into balance, rather than tilting ever from older to younger, pseudo-father to pseudo-son…

    They are both grown now, and have worked their way through the infernal tangle of twisted destinies, warped journeys of vengeance for the missing women in their lives and interference, both heavenly and hellish, to arrive at an understanding. Dean has taught Sam about sacrifice, about giving your life for those you love. Sam now has the opportunity to repay that gift, but by showing Dean that life and living a life can be an equally powerful gift…an equally powerful victory…

    The descendants of two intertwined dynasties, Winchester and Campbell, have had a hard road, and these two, Sam and Dean, are the only ones still standing. And despite everything, they STILL stand, back-to-back, eschewing the myopia of the Heaven vs. Hell monochrome for the infinite shades and hues of humanity…and this time the gamble is not for death, but for life…

    “Up against good, evil, angels, devils, destiny, and God himself, they made their own choice. They chose family. And, well… isn’t that kinda the whole point?”

    Pass the tissues, please.

    • Kathy permalink
      February 19, 2013 1:33 am

      magichappening, what a wonderful comment, especially the end. Yes, keep those kleenex handy! I feel like my mom now as I always have to have one in my pocket for when I read these reviews! HA

      • magichappening permalink
        February 23, 2013 11:10 pm

        Thanks so much Kathy (and I do apologise about the delay in replying to your sweet comment). Glad you liked my ramble🙂 and I think Supernatural fans should have bought shares in Kleenex in Season 1..d’oh!

    • Nightsky permalink
      February 23, 2013 2:20 am

      magichappening, I want to compliment you on your comment. The writing, especially in the last several paragraphs, was inspired. I have read your comment several times because I think it takes several passes to appreciate the detail, the poetry, of the sentiments. Please keep sharing your thoughts…and keep writing!

      • magichappening permalink
        February 23, 2013 11:13 pm

        Thank you so much Nightsky! What a lovely comment! It has been a rather difficult week for me, so reading your comment was really welcome🙂 Much appreciated and I shall endeavour to keep sharing my rambles🙂 Love your name by the way!

  9. Margaret Baily permalink
    February 19, 2013 1:28 am

    I so enjoy your recaps – it’s like I get to rehash the series with someone who is as much a fan as I am. And I love your insight! The only other person I know who watches this is my adult son and like the Winchesters also has the propensity to be a man of few words so our discussions are pretty much one sided.🙂 I can’t believe I had to grab the tissues just reading your paragraph about Dean, his vulnerability and the photo in his room like I did when I watched the episode. haha Thanks for sharing.

  10. bjxmas permalink
    February 19, 2013 1:51 am

    Thank you for perfectly summing up the meaning of this episode, why we’re so attached to our brothers and their journey, and how they are growing and accepting themselves and each other. I love seeing that they are ‘fond’ of each other, that it is a choice and a comfort to be together. You can love someone and not like them that much or even if you like them, not want to be around them for extended periods of time. We’ve known the brothers love each other for a long time, we’ve seen them both willing to sacrifice and die for the other, but to feel that closeness again, to see that they are genuinely fond of each other and happy to be united in this journey is the ultimate payoff!

    We’ve also known that both are capable in the brains and brawn department, but it was so needed to have Sam tell Dean that he is a genius! In families with one super-smart kid it is often hard for the other child to feel smart ‘enough’ in comparison. It’s all a matter of interests and drive, Sam loves the research and hence excels at it, while Dean is more mechanically brilliant (who else could totally rebuild the Impala so many times?) and strategically gifted while still perfectly capable of cracking the books when it becomes necessary. Sam enjoys that, Dean doesn’t.

    I’ve always loved the reversals and the twists, the discovery that what we thought we knew wasn’t all there was. Seeing Dean nesting and again assuming the role of big brother in the simple task of cooking for his brother and then expectantly awaiting his reaction was truly precious. Seeing him comfortable enough to pull that treasured photo out of his wallet and leave it in his room, knowing it would be safe and there awaiting him whenever he returned was beyond poignant.

    This episode had everything we could ask for and yet it is the simple brother moments that draw us back to rewatch again and again. Jensen and Jared know how to make it real, to make us feel, to show that bond without words. But what a delight it was when they did make their speeches, an honest revealing conversation with their brother where they let their hearts reach out while admitting to their own fears and insecurities. I am so proud of both our boys…men! And they will do this together, each supporting the other, but also letting their brother go, no longer stuck in their birth order historical roles, now totally free to apply all their strengths.

    Yep, the squeeing was pretty awesome here!

    B.J.

  11. February 19, 2013 3:14 pm

    I can not even tell how this review saddens me.

    We’ll have another year of Sam, the hero, and Dean, the caregiver. And seems that this more than ok, but is just great!

    Sam save him will not heal Dean, it will not make Dean see his real value.

    Dean having to fight against the tragic fate of Sam and have to worry even more with him, will not teach or make love Dean himself more. That was what he did his whole life, was exactly what took all his self esteem.

    Dean will just learn to love himself when he startin to fighting for his own life as he does for all the others and see that he deserves it too. And Sam should be the one to take care of Dean once in his life and fight against Dean’s fate.

    This is nothing but a repeat of last season, with Sam heroically suffering and Dean with nothing more than blaming even more himself and taking care of Sam. In seventh season at least had a reason to Sam load mytharc, not here.

    Whenever Dean wants to sacrifice himself for something he is called weak while Sam does it, he is the hero. Dean was again kicked off from mytharc and left behind, proving that there is only room for one special character in the show.

    Did you saw their last interview? Jared talking about the mytharc and Jensen about the gag reel? Because there’s no mytharc to Dean besides take care Sam again. This is not good, it’s just more of the same and proof that as well as Kripke wrote and Sera continued, Carver is only perpetrating that there is only one main character on the show and Dean is only the support to keep the fans.

    Carver is a huge disappointment. I am so disappointed and heartbroken that I’m giving up.

  12. February 20, 2013 12:00 am

    That was AWESOME…your synopsis and the episode…thank you for sharing your insights. I will look forward to more of your writing.

  13. Nightsky permalink
    February 23, 2013 2:31 am

    I think this episode was one of the best of the series. I had the same emotions, the same edge-of-my-seat, hold-my-breath reaction watching this show as I did the first time I saw “Swan Song”. I have rewatched it several times already, and each time it is as fresh, as exciting, as when it first aired. Finally, FINALLY, the boys talked to each other! They shared their honest thoughts, fears and hopes. These were the kind of heartfelt interactions that have been missing all season – in fact, for more than a few seasons. This was Supernatural at its very best. MoTW, acting, writing, directing, myth arc, timing, sincerity, hope, bromance – all were absolutely perfect. THIS is what I have been waiting for!

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