Sam and Dean: Conflict Resolution or More of the Same
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.