Last night’s Supernatural episode, “Bad Boys”, felt like the Show in Season 1 and 2, when every episode left me literally vibrating with FEELS and bursting with this tremendous creative energy. I wanted to know MORE about what had just happened outside those 42 minutes on my screen. I wanted to dissect every moment and peer into Sam and Dean’s heads and figure out why they did what they did and what they meant by every (nearly unspoken) word and every gesture and every long look. I wanted to read fanfiction and write meta and celebrate Show with everyone else who was blown away like I was. That’s how I felt after last night’s episode. I couldn’t wait to jump onto Tumblr and see the gifs and read the capslocked wails of “CRYING NOW OMG” and scour LiveJournal and AO3 to see if anyone had written an episode coda yet. That’s what Supernatural felt like for me when I fell for Show all those many years ago – that’s what drew me in and took over my life and made me the passionate fangirl that I am. That’s what we wrote Fangasm: Supernatural Fangirls about. Thanks, Adam and Kevin and Serge, and Jared and Jensen and Dylan, for bringing all that back.
This morning I woke up remembering a conversation we had with Eric Kripke back in Season 4 when we interviewed him for our books. We were talking about how the Show he created inspired people in turn to be creative, and what it felt like for him to see all the many places that fans had taken his creation. “I take it as a compliment as far as the fanfiction,” he said, “because what we set out in the beginning to obtain is a really self-contained universe in which fans can come and go…so just as in all good universes, you can find new ways to expand and explore other corners of that universe…And the fact that the fans are actually doing that is a good sign – I love it and I welcome it. I wanted to create a universe where we welcome others to come and play.”
We found ourselves smiling while we listened; Eric was smiling too. It was a nice moment, and one that cemented my affection and admiration for both Kripke and SPN. Last night’s episode felt like an invitation to climb into the sandbox and play, and that’s a pretty wonderful thing.
One of the reasons that “Bad Boys” had so much emotional resonance for me was because it evoked the early seasons, both in ‘feel’ and in the familiar tropes it used. SPN has been around long enough for me to get nostalgic for the “old days” and I literally squeed out loud when the boys did an old fashioned salt and burn. Just seeing Sam and Dean digging up a grave, perfectly in sync, and then standing over it, Sam sprinkling the salt and Dean striking those match covers and tossing them in made me gleeful. Yes! This is what my Show is about! (Also it was damn scary at times, with Kripke levels of gruesome. Yes!) I had the same sort of nostalgic reaction when Dean burst in yelling a protective “Sammy!” when Sam was being attacked by the ghost, when Dean pulled out the EMF meter, and when the brothers had a heart to heart in the Impala and then headed off into the sunset. In the early seasons, that’s almost always the way the Show ended, and as soon as it happened, I burst into tears. It just felt so right.
I’d been spoiled for the sort-of return of the Samulet, but I still wasn’t quite prepared for the emotional impact of seeing it on Dean’s chest. It was both wonderful and terrible, because I miss that damn amulet so damn much. Seeing it in the past was almost a tease, reminding me just how much I want it around Dean’s neck again, where it belongs. I might have shaken my fist at the television at that point. Nobody can accuse me of not being animated when I watch SPN.
I know there were some continuity jags – Dean talks about a rugaru in this episode, but doesn’t remember what that is later in a S4 ep – but those sort of details don’t tend to throw me out of the moment. I’m not a stickler for that kind of continuity, though I recognize that fans all watch for different reasons, and for some, that’s a painful thing. I did have a WTF moment when Sam’s recollection was that Dean was gone for two months “lost on a hunting trip”, because I can’t handwave the conviction that if 12 year old Sam had really thought his brother was lost, that would have been a huge trauma for him. Wouldn’t he have expected John to spend the two months frantically searching for his brother? I’m assuming that Sam got a better explanation at the time than the brief bit of dialogue implies, and that whatever John said and did at the time made sense to Sam, even if it clearly wasn’t the truth.
At first, I doubted that Dean would actually stay with Sonny – canon and fanon has always suggested that he was loyal to John and to the family business. But the episode sold me on the reason Dean stayed and made it believable – one, because John clearly wanted Dean to stay there, and Dean knew it and obeyed. Secondly, because the experience turned out to be a formative one for Dean, and I think some part of him knew that from Sonny’s very first interaction with him.
I can imagine that for Dean, the emotional loss of his father (on top of the physical loss of his mother) was not easily healed. John went from being the loving, attentive dad, sweeping Dean up in his arms for a hug, to a detached, obsessed man, overwhelmed with his own grief and the need for revenge. He clearly loved his boys, but was no longer able to show it. For young Dean, losing that affectionate father who was proud of him must have been incredibly painful. So Sonny’s overt expression of caring must have felt like balm to a still-open wound for Dean. A father figure who sees Dean’s strengths and celebrates them, with wrestling champion plaques on the wall and actual words: “I’m proud of you.” How many times did Dean crave those words from John? No wonder he stayed.
Those two months were the closest that Dean ever got to “normal” – more than his time with Lisa and Ben, because he was still young enough to take it all in and to let himself believe he deserved some happiness. Sonny and Robin convinced him of that. It may have been the one time in Dean Winchester’s life that he actually let himself have some happiness (which broke my heart as I realized it, and necessitated additional boxes of tissues at the ready). Still, my reading of the episode is that Dean never really considered his time at Sonny’s permanent. He clearly expected John to come back for him, so he wasn’t grieving the separation from his father and brother, or making a decision about the rest of his life. But he was enjoying that time, and the freedom to be his own person, away from the pressures of hunting and the responsibilities of taking care of his little brother. Yes, Dean defines himself as Sam’s big brother, and I think he loves being there for Sam, but having that responsibility thrust upon him so early must have been difficult – anyone would chafe under it from time to time. Dean knew Sam was safe, and that they would come back for him, so he could let go and just be a teenager for once.
I can see the concern about 16 year old Dean already moving away from idolizing his father, since that seems to take away from his later struggle to do just that. On the other hand, development doesn’t always happen in a steady forward motion – at different stages, we need to believe different things. Dean could have seen his dad clearly for those two months, especially in the wake of his anger at being forced to stay there, yet once he made the commitment to return to the ‘family business,’ he needed to idolize John again in order to be the “good little soldier” we know he was. Perhaps he needed to throw up some denial against the awareness of John’s flaws to do that – people are frighteningly good at denial, and Dean’s defense mechanisms are stronger than most. His later vehement rejection of ‘normal’ – for both himself and Sam – is typical of what people do when they’ve given something up they once loved. In order to live with that decision, the once loved thing is devalued, or even despised. So, I’m giving the episode the benefit of the doubt on that one, just like I’m assuming there’s a lot we don’t know about John’s explanation to Sam for Dean’s absence, so Sam wouldn’t be out of his skin with worry.
Before I talk about the scene that turned me into a wibbling fool, the one quibble I did have with the episode was that young Dean didn’t read as 16. Dylan Everett did an amazing job of playing Dean – he had the mannerisms and expressions down pat, so that even though he didn’t physically look all that much like Dean, I bought his portrayal more than I ever bought previous ones. (Writer Adam Glass tweeted that Dylan watched 5 seasons of SPN in a week to get Dean right – and it shows.)
He even mastered Jensen’s signature One Perfect Tear (TM).
Though I do admit that seeing Dean with brown eyes was a bit weird.
Dylan embodied Dean so perfectly that when I looked at young Dean, I saw Dean, and that’s a tough thing to do. Especially when a young actor is trying to embody my favorite fictional character in the history of ever!
However, as wonderful as Dylan was, he didn’t read 16. I found myself yelling (yeah yeah, probably out loud…) “Wait, Dean Winchester’s first kiss was at SIXTEEN?” For godsakes, even MY first kiss was way before that! Shhh, don’t tell my parents. But seriously, that stretched my belief. Neither canon nor fanon has ever implied that Dean was the type of kid who was that innocent at that age. With all that he’d seen and done, and how parentified he already was, it would make sense that Dean would be more experienced, not less. I get that Dean was in an unusual setting, and that part of what made it healing for him was that it allowed him to take down the walls he’d already built around himself, so he could be real and vulnerable instead of tough on the outside, with that trademark bravado we all have come to know and love. But that would work even better if he was, say, fourteen instead of sixteen.
Imagine my happiness when I read writer Adam Glass’s tweet that he actually wrote young Dean as fourteen, but that they changed it up in ADR because Dylan looked more like sixteen. Whoever made that decision? You were dead wrong. The dialogue and the story were written for a fourteen year old, and they made a lot more sense for a boy that age. (The change also made Sam look way younger than Dean – if Dean was 16, Sam should have been 12 going on 13, and probably not playing with a toy airplane out the car window…) If Sam had been 10, it would have made more sense that John’s explanation of where Dean was for two months was less than informative as well.
My headcanon is now recoding Dean in this episode as fourteen. Timeline be damned!
So, the wibbling. I didn’t cry when Dean got the news that he wasn’t going to the school dance after all – that his “normal” life was over. I didn’t get emotional when he looked at the photo of him and Robin on the wall, and realized he’d have to leave her. But when young Dean looked out the window and saw Sammy in the backseat of the Impala, all tousled hair and being a kid, and his entire face broke out into such a heartfelt smile – that’s when I lost it. The pure joy on Dean’s face when he saw his little brother was overwhelming. It was clear that there was no real decision to make. And Dean has never wavered from that conviction; it’s what the Show has revolved around.
The traditional ending scene, the boys having a heart to heart in the Impala, only increased the emotional impact, as Sam expresses his side of the equation. Throughout the episode, as in some of the best fanfiction, we’ve been seeing what happened to Dean as much through Sam’s eyes as our own – as we understand Dean better, so does Sam. We see the room where Dean slept, the bed with its carved protection symbols, the “Dean W.” still there beneath the names of the boys who came after.
We see Dean’s bravado for what it is, and we see the truth of Dean’s experience, through Sam’s eyes. So when Sam drops any pretense of teasing and tells his brother “thank you for always being there,” we know why. We know what Sam knows, whether Dean will ever admit it or not. And so Sam’s thanks hit me like another gut punch, as full of love as young Dean’s smile had been at the window so many years earlier. And when Dean says he didn’t stay because it “didn’t feel right,” I believe him. A life without each other has never felt right for either of the Winchester brothers.
So thanks for the trip down memory lane, Adam and Kevin. I’m gonna go see if any of those episode codas are posted yet.
We’re headed for Creation’s #BurCon this weekend – follow us on twitter @FangasmSPN for live tweets and pictures, and if you’re going to be there too, come find us in the vendor’s room with lots of copies of Fangasm: Supernatural Fangirls and say hi!