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An Emotional Home Run for Supernatural’s Regarding Dean

February 10, 2017

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This week’s Supernatural made me emotional before we even knew what was happening, simply because I knew that this was it – the Dean loses his memory episode. The tiny preview clip shook me weeks ago, and then I asked Jensen about it at a recent con. Would it break my heart? He said that it at first would make me laugh, but then…

His silence spoke volumes. He knows how much I adore the fictional character he plays, and I’m quite certain he knew the scene with Dean in the mirror was indeed going to destroy me. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s just say I was looking for signs of the impending amnesia even before they came, which made the opening ten minutes full of trepidation.

That doesn’t mean I didn’t also laugh. A LOT. One of the reasons I’m certain that Supernatural is the best show ever is its brilliance in combining humor and angst in a single episode – sometimes in a single minute! This episode accomplished that repeatedly.

Dean chases the witch, gets hexed by the witch, kills the witch, wakes up with a bunny. (Why did he wake up with a bunny? Who knows. Does writer Meredith Glynn love bunnies? Was somebody’s pet bunny on the soundstage that day and wanted to get in on the action? Does Jensen Ackles have a secret fondness for rabbits? No clue. I assume it refers to Dean’s rabbit comment in the previews. At any rate, it was adorable.)

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Ackles got ample room to exercise his comedy elbows…. I mean skills….in this episode. The face he made when the woman walking with her baby in the stroller looks aghast at him and gives him a dollar made me giggle even as I was dreading what was going to happen. Was that Kevin Park’s beautiful dog Kuma making a cameo appearance with the dog walking guy?

Padalecki also got to show off his considerable comedy skills as Sam initially believes that Dean was on a bender, and thus can be both bemused and annoyed at his lapses. Dean eats waffles, gets slapped by a woman he doesn’t remember, almost pukes over a murder victim with bags of bloody money pulled from his stomach…just another day for the Winchesters.

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And then things get not at all funny. Dean can’t remember which key to use to start the Impala.

Ohgod. This is the writing of someone who understands exactly what makes Dean DEAN and also knows how to rip my heart out. I half expected Robbie Thompson to peek out from behind an office door. (And yes, this is my highest compliment).

To destroy me further, he then puts the car into reverse and crashes her into a newspaper stand.

The icing on the cake?

Sam: Dean!

Dean: Who’s Dean?

OMG. Let me pay Meredith Glynn another compliment. Many of the best stories I’ve ever heard about the Winchesters haven’t been on the show – they’ve been in fanfiction. I told Jensen the day I asked him about this episode that the amnesia Dean or amnesia Sam trope is one of my favorite flavors, but that it also kills me every time. That’s what I was hoping for from this episode – that it would live up to the amazing stories I’ve read that tackled this trope. And guess what? That’s what I got.

Dean is in denial at first, insisting he’s fine – because who wouldn’t do that? Who wants to believe something as truly horrifying as the thought of losing your mind? Losing yourself. I’ve worked with people struggling with memory loss, and it’s profoundly terrifying. Lose your memory completely and you’ve literally lost yourself, your identity, your ability to love or be loved. I can think of few things more terrifying.

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This episode, and Ackles and Padalecki’s brilliant acting, played on that terror perfectly. Dean forgets the word for lamp, which in itself could be funny….almost. Sam puts a post it note on it to remind him. Soon the room is covered in them.

Sam alternates between being frustrated with his brother and starting to feel desperate and helpless, which Padalecki evoked perfectly. Finally Sam calls Rowena.

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Rowena: Is he all smooth from the neck down, like a candle…

Sam: I don’t know! And I’m not checking.

Me: Darn.

It’s getting less and less funny, as Sam turns around to find that Dean has disappeared. He just went out for ice, but even that simple thing is no longer simple – Sam is frantic, searching and calling out ‘Dean!’ until he finally finds him, trying to get into the wrong room. I think that was the point that the parallels to real life memory loss started to hit me. If you’ve ever witnessed someone going through something like that, it’s heartbreaking – and terrifying. And this episode got it so very right.

They retrace Dean’s steps from the night before hoping to kill the witch and break the spell. With dizzying speed, the show veers back and forth from humorous (Dean, looking heartbreakingly innocent and about five years old, exclaiming “That’s awesome” when Sam tells him that witches and vampires and monsters are real and that they kill them), to heartbreaking, as Dean loses memories again and again.

They eventually find the woman who slapped Dean in the bar and get a description of what he was up to and can’t remember the night before, which involves four shots of tequila and Dean riding Larry the mechanical bull.

Dean: (hopefully) Was I good?

Waittress: You were amazing.

Sam: (eyeroll)

The waitress apologizes for possibly taking advantage of a roofied Dean, which was a nice inclusion. Then the brothers review the video camera tapes from the night before and see Dean chase the bad guy out the back door.

Dean: (attempting to read his own lips): No salsa real mittens…

Sam: (exasperated) You can’t read lips.

It’s funny, but it’s so not!

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Sam and Dean continue to retrace Dean’s steps into the woods, while Sam tells Dean who they are and what they do. That in itself was heartbreaking, Sam sounding like the big brother for a change. Dean, in his place of innocence, listens and then exclaims “Best job ever!”

Sam doesn’t agree, citing all the grim realities.

Dean: I don’t know, we kinda sound like heroes.

Me: Damn right.

Meanwhile, the dead witch’s siblings find his body and Rowena appears at the motel to help. Or to get her hands on the powerful spell book that the witch family have in their possession. Or maybe a little of both, if you love Rowena like I do.

Dean: Your hair’s so bouncy!

Rowena to Sam: Do we have to fix him?

Sam entices Dean to sit down on the bed (actually he just grabs him by the shoulders and puts him there) with a promise of Cinemax. Dean’s selective memory interprets that as Skinemax, which he’s apparently quite comfortable with while Sam and Rowena are there too. It turns out to be a cartoon, but Dean has already forgotten what he was promised, so he smiles with pure joy and OMG I don’t know whether to laugh or start crying. Supernatural is often an emotional roller coaster, which I both love and hate, but this episode really delivered on that wild ride.

Credit to lemondropsonice on tumblr (tweeted by crissvil)

Credit to lemondropsonice on tumblr (tweeted by crissvil)

Rowena makes it clear – to Sam and to us – that Dean won’t just lose his memory of his past. He’ll lose everything. He’ll forget who he is, how to do everything – even how to swallow. Dean Winchester will die.

From the bed, Dean: Sucks for that guy.

Ohgod. My heart.

Sam’s heart is clearly breaking too.

Sam: I’ve watched my brother die. But watching him become…not him. This might actually be worse.

Seeing the person you love most in the world slipping away, unable to do anything to stop it? I’ll say. This episode hit hard for anyone who has had to lose a loved one little by little, as many of us have. Almost too hard at some points.

Sam takes Dean into the bathroom for some privacy and tells him their life story. Their shared history. Who Dean is, what he’s done. Dean: I can feel it, slipping out of my head.

Sam: We’ll figure it out, okay? We will.

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How many times has Dean said that to Sam? *clutches chest*

Then Sam leaves to go out and try to save his brother’s life. And that? Is what I live for.

Dean faces himself in the mirror after Sam leaves, in the scene teased in that preview that made me so full of fear.

“My name is Dean Winchester. My brother is Sam. My mother is Mary Winchester. My best friend is Cas.”

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He repeats it, each time more haltingly, each time struggling more to hang onto the awareness. And as we watch, we can see in heartbreaking detail that Dean is losing the battle. I’ve been blown away by Jensen’s acting many times during the course of twelve years of Supernatural, but this was one of those scenes that blew me away all over again. No wonder he wouldn’t reassure me that it wouldn’t kill me. It did.

According to Ruth Connell, in one take we even got the One.Perfect.Tear ™

Rowena is left to babysit Dean, which she doesn’t seem to mind at all. Rowena never has a confidante who she can tell the truth to, she’s always too careful, too busy manipulating other people and trying to protect herself to just be real with anyone. That takes a toll after hundreds of years, I’m sure, so having someone who won’t remember it to confide in is a rare opportunity for Rowena. She tells him a story of the witch family who rejected her, back when she was lonely and desperate and – as she would put it – pathetic. Another glimpse of who Rowena is and how she got to be that way, which only makes me appreciate the character more. There’s a vulnerability to her that Connell has shown us glimpses of from the start, and that makes her so much more interesting. Oh and apparently Rowena has her own history with the British Men of Letters. Hmm.

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Sam, meanwhile, is being a big damn hero. When Rowena warns him that the witches would sooner use his skin as an outfit, he cocks his gun and replies, “They can try.”

Damn. Is it hot in here?

He breaks into the witches’ house but unfortunately gets taken down. And tied up. It’s like old school Supernatural! When the witches incapacitate him and Sam starts screaming, Dean and Rowena are on the other end of the phone. And Dean, who at that point does not even remember his own name, hears his brother scream in pain and yells into the phone: SAMMMM!

That was it. If I’d been standing, I would have collapsed. Dean has forgotten everything, even who he is, even his own name. Everything but that one word, that one person. Sam. He yells it as Dean Winchester has done a billion times since Supernatural premiered, and it carries so much meaning that it nearly destroyed me.

All the kudos, Meredith. All the kudos.

Dean wakes up in the Impala, a post it note telling him his brother has been captured by a witch, and to STAY, while Rowena goes inside to try to save Sam.

Dean still, on some level, being Dean, does not stay. He opens the trunk and is treated to Sam’s post it notes all over it, and at this point I could not NOT laugh.

On the trunk? OPEN ME.

On the gun? THIS GUN. Next to it? WITCH KILLING BULLETS.

On the grenade launcher? A big NO!

Ohgod, Show. I love you so.

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Dean bursts into the house just in time to save Rowena from the wicked witch, and then Sam and the other witch come downstairs. Dean, unfortunately, has no clue who to shoot. But Sam knows what to do.

Sam: (pointing to himself) No no no, brother! (pointing to other guy) Witch!

Boom! Dean shoots him (instinctively knowing to trust Sam’s voice, I wager)

Rowena works her magic from the spell book, and Dean and Rowena descend the stairs a little while later.

Sam: (still looking heartbreakingly anxious and so very hopeful): Is it done?

Dean: (deadpan) Who’s this hippie?

You can literally see Sam beginning to despair, in an amazing piece of acting by Jared. I started to tear up as I watched, just from the emotion on Sam’s face.

And then Dean bursts into laughter, along with Rowena, proving to Sam that he does remember by recounting a silly childhood memory to break the tension. If I were Sam, I would have clocked him one (and then hugged the shit out of him), but I’m not Sam and Show has been really good to me tonight but not quite THAT good. So no brother hug, but we do get a classic Sam and Dean talk over the hood of the Impala moment, so I’m still pretty damn happy.

Sam: Not funny.

As they chat over the Impala, Sam says it was nice to see Dean looking happy, with all the burdens lifted from his shoulders that knowing what they’ve been through puts there.

Dean disagrees.

Dean: Was it nice to drop our baggage? Yeah, maybe. Hell, probably. But it wasn’t just the crap that got lost. I mean, it was everything. It was us, what we do, all of it. So if that’s what being happy looks like, I think I’ll pass.

That conversation reminded me of the end of one of my all time favorite episodes, The French Mistake. Sure, they could have stayed there, where there were no monsters. But they wouldn’t have been Sam and Dean.

Sam: We’re not even brothers here, man.

And that pretty much says it all.

So the Winchesters drive away. All this time, I’m wondering where the scene is of Dean riding Larry.

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Cue the music of ‘Broomstick Cowboy’ and there it is, a video montage of Dean looking happy and innocent and riding a mechanical bull. I didn’t know the song, so at first it struck me as purely happy, but then again, it’s a country song, and that means heartache can’t be far behind…. Sure enough, the ending is a twist.

“Soon you’ll be a dreadful thing – my son, you’ll be a man.”

Woah. Chew on that one for a while, fandom.

A paean to Dean’s childhood, lost too soon to hunting and his father’s quest for revenge? Or just a reminder that Dean does still hang onto the ability to find some joy in life, and he refuses to regret the life he’s chosen?

I was left an emotional mess after that roller coaster of an episode, but you know what? I didn’t mind one bit. That’s the sort of episode that made me fall in love with this Show and these characters. I felt profoundly grateful to be gifted with an episode and actors’ performances that can still make me feel so much.

Thank you, Show.

–Lynn
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16 Comments leave one →
  1. Deepti Nimmagadda permalink
    February 10, 2017 5:13 pm

    You summed it up perfectly!!
    Every second of this episode it tore me apart… I couldn’t find any amusement in it even in the beginning scenes. It was too difficult to find it funny when we as audience knew what was happening to Dean even when Sam didn’t. I was choked up and couldn’t even watch the episode at certain times.

    Also if you are going to VegasCon could you ask the boys a question for me? I am from India and it’s difficult for me to come over there in the middle of my final semester at college.

    The question if you choose to ask is I’d like to know which one of the J2 is the actual baby whisperer? My dad’s a baby whisperer. I’ve never seen a child cry in his at least not the whole scream/wail thingy they do with certain people. So after the skin walker baby ‘Bobby- John’ episode I got to thinking and I’m finally coming out to seek the answer. So thanks in advance!!

  2. February 10, 2017 6:30 pm

    I can only say that you hit every note, highlighted every facet that made this a fabulous episode. I loved every part of it and did a rewatch after my daughter went home and my husband went to bed. I don’t usually do that. And I enjoyed it even more on the second viewing due to the fact that it was a fast-paced episode; so with a second viewing I was able to relax into it a bit, and enjoy all the nuance. Jensen, Jared: each acted the hell out of his part. And I for one, enjoy Rowena and this ep caused me to love her even more. I am loving season 12.

  3. j1j19a3p7 permalink
    February 10, 2017 7:27 pm

    Show is finally back !
    I loved this episode. Adore it.
    Scene in the mirror ? A true testament to Jensen’s amazing acting talent. HIs facial expressions, sooo subtle yet heartbreaking. That man doesn’t need dialogue (though his Dean-one-liners are to go into history)
    The phone conversation where Sam is hurt and Dean’s sudden exclamation of “Sam”, even though he doesn’t remember anything? THANK YOU writer ! You know what Show is about.

    Always a treat to have Rowena interact with the Winchesters. She is a gift. Ruth is just so perfect in that role. She should be back more. Rowena has so much more to say and show.

    And extra bonus: no Mary Campbell ! (let’s face it, she is not a Winchester, she just married one)

  4. Sylls permalink
    February 10, 2017 8:29 pm

    Thank you for this work !!
    This episode was a SUPER SUPERNATURAL episode !!
    DEAN and JENSEN are simply always MAGICAL !!!

  5. February 10, 2017 9:36 pm

    Reblogged this on SUPERNATURAL AND OTHER SHOWS.

  6. Liorah permalink
    February 11, 2017 1:58 am

    Just a little point of interest: the setting for this episode, Eureka Springs, Arkansas, is a lovely mountain town with a large gay population. So, knowing where the amnesia trope goes in some of the fan fic I have to wonder if that was deliberate.

    This was a wonderful episode. I’m not sure how I feel about the montage. It made me feel kind of uncomfortable, but I think I’m just not keen on the flashback montage device.

    • spnfans permalink*
      February 14, 2017 4:34 am

      I did not know that! Interesting bit of trivia 🙂 I did really enjoy the montage, but it also felt odd just stuck onto the end. I won’t quibble tho, I’ll take Dean on a mechanical bull any way I can get it. lol

  7. February 11, 2017 1:57 pm

    I agree 100%. I know some people were angry about the fact that Dean was used as a comic relief too much (and not only in this episode); but I found the balance between humour and sadness/fear brilliantly managed – by Mererith and by the actors as well. Watching a carefree, almost child-like Dean, relieved from the burden of his hunter life, was as heartbreaking ad the devastating mirror scene. I’ve watched my grandfather fall victim to dementia, and my Dad is beginning to show signs of it, and maybe that’s what made me extra emotional seeing Dean there, going from frightened to terrified… a million kudos to Jensen here. Kudos to Jared, too, whose fave and body language revealed exactly the dread and terror you’ d expect of someone who watches a beloved one slip away into non- existence.
    Honestly, I found the writing perfect, the acting brilliant (Ruth being a joy as always, especially in her vulnerability), the production design pure perfection (as always)….
    And the scene montage at the end, with THAT song playing? Just the freaking perfect cherry on top.

  8. February 11, 2017 3:01 pm

    Funniest episode in some time

  9. Uschi permalink
    February 11, 2017 3:34 pm

    Great review as always! I loved this epi, the Js great as always, Jensen upping it one more, especially in the mirror scene that made me choke as my Dad suffers from dementia and sometimes doesn’t even recognize my mom after 57 years of marriage. But on the fun side – Dean waking up with the rabbit like a hint on Alice in Wonderland, nearly puking over the bloody autopsy and amazed looking at his “first dead man”. Episodes like this, full of emotion and action are what made me love this show so long ago and they’re still going strong giving us these wonderful moments. Jensen on the bull? What was my name? *me drooling*

  10. AlyCat22 permalink
    February 12, 2017 2:03 am

    Lynn –

    You mentioned loss of memory Sam and/or Dean fan fics that you have really enjoyed. Can a girl get a rec? I’d love to read them!!! As many as you can throw at me. I also would not be opposed to (and humbly ask for) any additional SN fics that you have read and loved. Thanks.

    Great article. Great episode. Jensen and Jared once again hit it out of the park.

    • spnfans permalink*
      February 14, 2017 4:36 am

      I am a horrible record keeper so I don’t know which they are, but I think if you look for amnesia trope on archive of our own or the old Live Journal, you will definitely find some!

  11. February 12, 2017 6:49 pm

    Rowena: Is he all smooth from the neck down, like a candle…

    Actually, she said “is he all smooth… like a Ken doll?”. That was funny.

    • spnfans permalink*
      February 14, 2017 4:37 am

      I just snorted a laugh when I read your comment. Ken doll? Hahaha. That’s what happens when you write a review after a single viewing. That makes more sense than a candle, tho somehow candle sort of made sense too…. at least at the time 🙂 Thank you!

  12. February 16, 2017 4:27 am

    I came into the episode expecting it to disappoint – the concept is so good and was ripe for balancing between comedy and complete devastation for all the reasons outlined above. I didn’t think the writer who brought us the Hitler episode could possibly pull this off – but she did beautifully! Kudos. (Although now I’m scratching my head over the Hitler episode even more. Why SPN? WHY??)

    Jensen was amazing, but Jared’s transition from “Are you still drunk?” to “what is wrong with you?” to no words for it horror was equally amazing. At the very end when Dean and Rowena act like the spell didn’t work, it was perfectly cruel in that Rowena would have no problems being utterly evil, and Dean was back to himself and would’ve though that was funny only because he wouldn’t have been able to remember what Sam went through.

    This one was amazing.

  13. Sylls permalink
    February 21, 2017 6:02 pm

    FANTASTIC WORK !! THANK YOU !!
    I LOVE this show and especially I LOVE DEAN !!

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