Supernatural meta, reviews & fic recs

Sam and Dean: Conflict Resolution or More of the Same

Kevin tells the Winchesters to get over it

It’s stupid

On the surface, Kevin’s comment to “get over it” seems to trivialize Sam and Dean’s issues, but his statement that his mom was taking home a ghost ought to put it in perspective. His mom will never hug him again or have any reason to cook is favorite meal or tell him to get some rest because he’s studying to late. She will probably watch him deteriorate into a vengeful spirit. From that perspective, maybe Sam and Dean’s fighting does look pretty trivial — not the issues itself, but the fact that they aren’t talking about it or working through the problem. Instead they are shooting verbal barbs at one another, getting under one another’s skin, and pretending that they are just hunting partners. That isn’t a solution. That’s alternately picking at the wound and hiding it under a dressing. It’s not healing it.

Linda’s statement to Dean was that she would protect Kevin as long as she is able is interesting. He was trying to warn her that taking Kevin home as a ghost wouldn’t end well. Clearly, he understands her position, but it’s hard to say if he can take his own words as a warning. He didn’t take his advice to Charlie in “Pac-Man Fever” that it was time to let go. He reinforced that he never would, and he didn’t. He’s reaping the consequences now and has yet to recognize that he was wrong or why he was wrong.

If Linda’s words were meant to make Dean consider his actions, Kevin’s words were meant for both Sam and Dean. Of course, it was a sentiment that Dean could easily embrace because his MO is to bury problems and move on. Sam, however, can’t do that and he shouldn’t. I think it was pretty clear by the way he hesitated as he entered his room that much as he would like to patch things up with Dean, he needs changes in the relationship to do so. Sam is a thinker, and that’s what he’s gone to do — think about a strategy for how to deal with the elephant in the room instead of pretending that they can not be family. While Sam is thinking, Dean is trying his best not to think.

A lot of fans want Dean to just apologize and change his ways, but it isn’t that simple. He may be the one at fault on this issue, but that doesn’t mean that Sam doesn’t have a part to play in making Dean understand exactly where he failed him and what he needs to do to correct his behavior. And it’s going to be an ongoing project. One doesn’t simply change a lifetime of habits. There will likely be backsliding, and they’ll have to address the problem again and again. Dean did after all acknowledge in “Swan Song” that he needed to let Sam be a grownup and maybe he did too. He supported Sam’s plan to take down Lucifer and that gave Sam the strength to do it, but circumstances in season seven had Dean slipping back into old patterns with Sam. His over-protective behavior with Lisa and Ben in season six should have been a tip off that he hadn’t just changed. He became controlling to a degree that it angered and frightened Lisa. Sam recognized it as similar to John’s behavior and called Dean on it.

The problem that I have with a lot of the abuse meta I’ve seen is that it reduces Dean to a trope if not a cliche. His motive is simply to control Sam, they say, as though Dean simply gets off on controlling Sam. It ignores seasons of canon showing that Dean’s motive is protecting Sam. A childhood in which his father’s love and approval was contingent upon taking care of his brother and in which family was modeled on a military unit explains to a large degree why Dean behaves the way he does. It doesn’t excuse abusive behavior, but I think it has something to do with why Sam has in the past accepted it to the extent he has.

They were both  raised in an environment in which a “soldier’s” individual emotional and psychological needs took a back seat to the mission and to the success of the unit itself. Neither expects “family” to be warm and fuzzy. That’s why Sam had that slightly baffled look at Jody’s comment that he and Dean were comfort for one another. Dean may have a distant memory of family providing safety in more than a physical sense, but Sam doesn’t. That’s why he has said that “home” and “family” mean different things to them.

Dean needs to recognize just how far from protecting Sam he’s gotten. He should. He nearly lost Sam because of Gadreel. His excuse that he doesn’t always think things through but he’d do it again is pathetically off the mark. In retrospect, he ought to grasp how devastating his actions were. Maybe seeing Linda Tran’s grief and resiliency will help put things into perspective for him.

It goes deeper than that one act of tricking Sam into possession however. Dean needs to respect Sam on a daily basis as well. He knows that Sam is smart and capable. He needs to stop letting brotherly ribbing cross the line into bullying and put downs. When Dean feels bad about himself, he takes it out on Sam, and that needs to stop. In order to be brothers or even successful hunting partners, Dean needs to rely on Sam’s skills and intelligence the way that he once did and he has to make Sam an equal partner in larger decisions. John Winchester’s legacy of military-style hierarchy has to end. The irony of Dean referring to himself as nothing but a “grunt” when he behaves like the general is not lost here.

I understand that some fans are so appalled and angry at Dean for tricking Sam into possession and gaslighting him that they don’t care about his motivations or feelings. We all have our blindspots and prejudices, but reducing a character to two-dimensions out of anger or disgust does not make useful meta. I don’t claim to not make errors in meta. I don’t remember every detail of every episode, and I have my own interpretations of the characters’ behavior that I’m sure is colored by my own world view, but I do try to be objective and see both points of the brother issues. I have a tendency to see Sam and Dean as much as a single unit as much as I do individuals. That may be interpreted as a strength or a weakness, I think, but it is certainly how Kripke intended for them to be seen:

“And so they both have their stories. But I always say that it’s about them coming together, because the story is really not about one or the other; it’s about the bond between them that’s called brotherhood.  It’s about this connection of the two of them.  The two of them being one unit is for us really what the story is about. “

I’ve seen a number of fans, myself included, accused of being abuse apologists for wanting to explain and understand Dean’s behavior toward Sam. I don’t accept that. Explaining is not excusing. I don’t want Sam to roll over and let the dynamic between them continue as it has in the past. He has a right to his hurt and anger. He has a right to demand that Dean change. However, to see the situation as just about Sam escaping an abusive relationship in which Dean is cast as two-dimensional Lifetime movie villain is to dismiss the thing that got them where they are and is still the most important thing in their lives — them, their relationship, the brother bond. It seems to me that it loses sight of what the show is and should be about — Sam and Dean against the world.


16 responses

  1. It doesn’t excuse abusive behavior, but I think it has something to do with why Sam has in the past accepted it to the extent he has.

    They were both raised in an environment in which a “soldier’s” individual emotional and psychological needs took a back seat to the mission and to the success of the unit itself. Neither expects “family” to be warm and fuzzy.

    It’s one of those debates that I think fiction allows us to process a messier, thornier reality. One of those is: can abuse be contextual? (obviously, there is a line where abuse remains abuse no matter what, not talking about that, just the gray area)

    For one of my favorite examples: Mal’s treatment of Wash during the episode “Out of Gas“. Now from a cold, ideal view, Mal’s behavior was – yes – abusive. However the situation was not ideal and trying to avoid abuse wouldn’t just kill Mal & Wash (either of who might be ok with dying to avoid it), but several others. So was what was necessary for survival really abuse?

    Now with the Winchesters (especially if you take the comics as canon), they never had anything close to ideal, but an ongoing, problematic environment. I don’t just mean John, I mean trying to learn how to survive in a world shown to be far more dangerous than probably few of us could survive.

    That seems to be the theme the show wants to do this season (though not great so far): the competition of “goods”. Like survival (which is a good thing) vs… consent (a good thing) or something else.

    Could be interesting to see how they work it out…

    February 27, 2014 at 1:21 pm

    • Right, by examining Sam and Dean’s relationship we aren’t taking sides in a life and death situation. No one is actually being hurt if we try to understand the underlying dynamic and Dean’s motivations.

      And I think too there is the ongoing question of “Am I my brother’s keeper?” that the mark of Cain only underscores. The past few episodes have examined family members who have tried in one way or another to protect another — not just Cain and Abel, but the werewolves, the pishtacos, and the Trans. How far is too far in protecting and making in fact making decisions for another member of one’s family? When does, as I think you suggest, doing good actually result in a negative result?

      You’re right that this look at competing “goods” has been uneven, but like you, I’m interested to see where they will go with it.

      February 27, 2014 at 2:06 pm

      • Well this writing team hasn’t filled me with confidence on their ability to handle even semi-complexity this season. Heck I even held some faults in S5 against the first crew. 😉

        The biggest problem with the parallels this season is that they don’t line up quite as well and I’m not sure even the writers know what we or the brothers should be learning from them. Werewolves == John’s quest? But John going on his vengeance quest led to saving the world (since we know Sam would have been recruited anyway, only in this alternative he probably wouldn’t have the fortitude to fight Lucifer). Pishtacos == Sam? But Dean actively tried to stop and restrain Gadreel even before he went on the killing spree, whereas she was coddling her brother.

        Part of me thinks the writers this season are just kind of doing stories by dart board and letting the fans do all the hard work for them.

        February 27, 2014 at 3:17 pm

        • The fans doing all the hardwork isn’t new to this season though. Fans are still tying themselves in knots trying to make sense of Sam’s behavior pre-season eight and the first half it. Just terrible, uneven writing.

          You may be right. It is as though they are just throwing crap at the wall to see what sticks like a bunch of monkeys.

          February 27, 2014 at 3:38 pm

          • Oh when he abandoned Dean? ….Yeah

            That wouldn’t have been too bad except…

            1) We never saw any sign that fighting the Leviathan was particularly taxing for Sam (which it maybe could have been, but Dean was given that narrative thread).
            2) It was never believable that Amelia was anything special enough to pull Sam out of the hunting life. Nothing against the actress, I just didn’t see any chemistry between her & Jared and as portrayed the relationship didn’t show anything that appealing.

            I mean I could understand not wanting to repeat what they did with Ruby, but they should have at least learned the LESSON from that S4 relationship.

            Of course I’m still mad about Castiel and grace and…. argh!

            February 27, 2014 at 3:43 pm

            • There are so many other ways they could have gone other than this vague reference to the idea that Sam just couldn’t “deal” and ran and hit a dog and then there was a girl and then there wasn’t. It was over. Or maybe not. It was a dream world. Uh, what crap.

              I think that Sam looking for and finding Kevin would have been far more interesting. Sam being the big brother instead of the little brother. He and Dean both finding “brothers” that might have helped them deal with their own issues, but then Carver wouldn’t have had all that manufactured and far from entertaining conflict to play with.

              I’m bitter. Do I sound bitter?

              February 27, 2014 at 3:49 pm

            • *hands over alcohol bottle*

              Totally, 110% agree. It would have been awesome seeing Sam & Kevin hanging out. And them going through role reversal…

              There could have still been conflict with Dean wavering under his “big” brother Benny and Sam annoyed because he’s wanting more action… a lot of it writes itself!

              February 27, 2014 at 3:59 pm

            • Absolutely. And Benny was a wasted opportunity to dig into all the vampire mythology with the Alpha vamp and the fact that Dean was briefly a vampire, but there wasn’t so much as a mention of either.

              February 27, 2014 at 4:25 pm

            • Oh hey, you’re going to get a kick out of the review I post tonight… (coming soon)

              February 27, 2014 at 8:02 pm

            • Review up now (maybe I was a little angry…)

              February 27, 2014 at 9:20 pm

  2. I need to think about it but…

    It just now hit me how much the bros’ arc might be reminiscent of suicide attempts. And how a family & friends can struggle to save someone, who nonetheless ends up resenting them a bit for preventing their death.


    February 28, 2014 at 12:20 pm

    • Yes, there is that except I don’t think that Sam was actively seeking death, at least not initially, and when Dean tricked him into accepting possession, he was dying a natural death. Seems more like overriding a ‘do not resuscitate’ order maybe?

      March 4, 2014 at 6:37 am

      • Yeah, though of course a lot of this is in light of the writers just doing a bad job with this season.

        On one hand, you’re right it is a DNR order. However with Sam seemingly “seeking” Death itself and asking “to stay dead”… it’s a disturbingly apt metaphor for suicide as well. (I mean, the real, intending to die suicide, not the kind that’s a cry for help)

        March 4, 2014 at 2:46 pm

        • Right. I go back and forth on the issue of Sam thinking he didn’t have a choice and was just trying to ensure that he couldn’t be brought back and people being hurt OR he was actively seeking death.

          I still wonder if his return to the cabin in 8.01 was to consider killing himself and that’s how in 9.01 he knew what was waiting for him in the cabin.

          March 4, 2014 at 5:14 pm

          • Well it is interesting to compare: Bobby had a reaper actively chasing him through his mind and fought every step of the way. Sam had Death in his mind and instead of running away, walked towards it.

            But like I said, I think that’s us putting more thought into it than they did. 😉

            March 4, 2014 at 5:45 pm

            • And how freaking sad is that?

              March 4, 2014 at 5:49 pm

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