Nine Seasons of Push and Pull Take a Toll
It’s heartbreaking seeing the men these boys have become. They bickered and fought and laughed. They protected each other, would and did give their lives for each other, but they were torn apart by the forces of heaven and hell. You have to wonder if they ever stood a chance.
They both had such confidence in the beginning. Dean knew two things to be true – that killing monsters and watching out for Sammy were right. Those beliefs have been sorely tested over the years. The two things that gave him any self-worth at all have been turned on their heads. Killing monsters is wrong now, except when it isn’t – there’s no firm rule – and Dean likes rules and orders. That’s how he was trained – to be a good soldier. Saving Sam too isn’t right except when it might be, if Sam says it’s okay.
And Sam was never the good soldier, but he had a mind of his own to give him confidence despite all the ways his dad told him he was failure. He had intelligence and that could be objectively measured by tests and teachers, and it was something that could give him a life outside hunting. He could use it to balance out the “wrongness” he’d always felt inside him – until his mind was invaded when his powers manifested and his will subverted when he became demon blood addicted. He was torn apart when Cas brought him back from the cage soulless, then Death put up a wall in his head and Cas broke it. He was tormented by Hallucifer, and then the last straw – Dean gaslighting him, making him believe he was losing his mind … again.
From all appearances, Sam has his mind back and he’s using it to try to create a new relationship with Dean, but it’s hard to say whether he thinks his life has any worth now. At the same time, Dean is flailing like a drowning man, grasping at old ideas of right and wrong like pieces of drift wood in a stormy, dark sea. Sam threw him a lifeline in agreeing to work together, but he isn’t willing to let Dean grab onto him and drag him down again – whether that is out of self-preservation or pigheadedness, it’s still a good thing.
Back when Kripke ran the show, he said that the boys worked together one moving forward and dragging the other along, and then they’d switch places. For three seasons essentially, we’ve seen Dean dragging Sam along through soullessness, and a broken wall, Hallucifer, and the delusion of a normal life, and when Dean faltered, let Sam go, and later fatalistically decided to take on the trials. Sam moved ahead and pulled Dean along. Ugly as his methods were, Dean went back to dragging Sam along in “Sacrifice” and early this season.
Kripke never said this push and pull was pretty. It often hasn’t been. What we’re seeing now is Sam pulling Dean forward – maybe toward a healthier dynamic – and it isn’t pretty. It will probably get a lot uglier, but hopefully it will rebuild Sam’s belief that he has worth in the world – not just in relation to Dean but to others as well. As for Dean … perhaps he’ll learn to view Sam as an adult finally, an independent person who loves him and values him as a person not just as a protector.
If only the Winchesters could find common ground again, they’d be a formidable force against heaven and hell.