SPN 9.19: An Alex Annie Alexis Ann ramble or something
[I feel like I need to preface this post by saying that the Dean and Sam presented in the narrative since Jeremy Carver started as show runner are a distinctly different characters from those Eric Kripke created and developed in the first five seasons. While I chafe at how they’ve been molded into this new form, it is what it is. I’m working with what the narrative gives us, and it sometimes gives me a headache.] That being said …
I have to give writer Robert Berens credit for packing a lot of vampire lore into “Alex Annie Alexis Ann” and getting it right. Unlike some writers on the show in recent seasons, I felt as though he actually did his homework, and that’s a lot of studying. From the first vampire hunt we see the boys on with John in season one’s “Dead Man’s Blood” through Dean escaping purgatory with a vampire buddy in season eight, vampires have a long and varied history on Supernatural. Berens puts that to good use in this episode which brought the return of Sheriff Jody Mills.
Not unlike the werewolf episode “Sharp Teeth” [9.12] which revealed Garth to be a member of a werewolf pack, “Alex Annie Alexis Ann” is really an exploration of family. Sam and Dean were called to Sioux Falls by Jody who had an uncooperative teen runaway in her lock up and a decapitated vampire in her trunk. When she tells them that the girl won’t talk, and the boys surmise that the girl has been a “blood slave” for the vampire nest and has, as Jody puts it “vampiric Stockholm syndrome.” DNA tests revealed that the girl was named Annie Jones and had been kidnapped nine years earlier.
As soon as Sam and Dean began to interview her, the parallels between her and the Winchester family begin. The boys try to appeal to her situation. They say they understand that she was given a home and she feels loyalty to them, but Sam and Dean don’t get it.
Dean: … they didn’t love you. They fed on you.
Annie: I fed them. My choice. My brothers – they brought me food when I was hungry. So, when they struck out on a hunt, I fed them. They’re my family.
Sam: Okay, you care about them, but, Alex … there’s a reason you decided to run away.
Annie: It was time … to move on and get out on my own.
There was no indication in Sam’s expression that he was making a connection between himself as a teen and the girl. He had just wanted to go to college, but John saw it as a betrayal and Dean saw things his father’s way. While Sam tends to be empathetic, he may be as blind to this kind of parallel as Dean is. The Winchesters weren’t the monsters after all. They weren’t killing people, they were saving them. Hard as Sam’s childhood was, I don’t think he sees his father and brother feeding off him or being monsters. He was the one who thought he was a freak, the one who didn’t fit in, the monster. I hate quoting long passages, but …
Dean: And how do you think that decision is going to sit with the rest of the nest? Do you think they’re just going to shrug and cut their losses?
Sam: They’ve lived with you for years. They’ve tasted your blood. They have your scent down cold. I mean, how far can you run and for how long?
Dean: You didn’t think this out, did you? What would happen? Who might get hurt? You’re, uh, brother for one.
Annie: His name is Cody, and she killed him.
Dean: Because of a choice you made. These are the consequences.
Like Annie, Sam got away, but his escape only lasted for so long before, “Dad’s on a hunting trip and he hasn’t been home in a few days.” Just as Annie’s brothers were acting on behalf of their “Mama,” Dean was like an extension of John reaching out to pull Sam back into the family and all its dysfunction.
And the consequences of Sam taking off? Dean had been left alone with John. We don’t know much about what that time was like for Dean except that he’d had dreams of his own and felt obligated to stay with his father – “Dad needed me.” He admired and resented Sam’s escape. I think the implication is that Dean – the Dean who had dreams of his own, the teenage Dean that we saw in “Bad Boys” died during that time with John. That’s not to say it was Sam’s fault for having left or that what Sam did was wrong. On the contrary, Dean was just trying to manipulate Annie into helping them. Dean is the unreliable narrator. He may blame Sam, but that doesn’t make what Sam did wrong. Sam, by contrast, is straight forward with her.
Sam: You’ve got two options – them or you. We can help you. We can keep you safe, but you have to help us.
Sam saw even as a teen that if he didn’t get away, he’d be destroyed just as Dean was when he made the decision to stay with his father. I’ve complained over the past two seasons that John has been white-washed by the narrative, but I’m beginning to think that was just Dean’s perspective bleeding through. In fact, John is an ever-present figure lurking in the shadows throughout this episode, and the parallels between him and Mama aren’t flattering. For his part, Dean is shown as paralleling both Annie in his relationship to his father, the Annie’s brothers in his relationship with teenage Sam, and the mother vampire with adult Sam. When Dean has one of the brothers, Dale, strung up, Dale comments that he should have known that Annie would be a problem.
Dale: Mama wouldn’t do it. No matter how bad it got.
Dale: Let me guess. You never had a little sister. Dragging her heels. Whining, near constant, about everything, but more and more about the blood, like she’s somehow above it, like she’s better than us because she don’t feed on people.
Dean: She is better than you, dumbass.
Dale: Her moping, that teenage crisis of conscience crap? It’s annoying as hell, but it’s just an act. When chips are down, she’ll always choose us over humans.
Like Dale, Dean is sure that his younger sibling will always choose the warped conception of family that John instilled in him over anything – even the lives of innocent people – despite Sam’s repeated protests that they don’t see family the same way. Dale then revealed that Annie was used by the family to lure men into being dinner for the nest. She was bait, just as John used Dean as bait with vampires in “Dead Man’s Blood” and Sam as bait with the shtriga in “Something Wicked.” I have theory that the reason we have seen Sam getting captured and tied up so much in the past couple of seasons is that the narrative was trying to show Sam falling into the role of lure. As he began hunting with his dad and brother, he was, as youngest and least skilled, used to lure monsters into their clutches. When he and Dean began hunting together again, he fell back into that role. When Dean and Sam first captured Dale, Dean made a comment about how Dale was left to do dishes after dinner. Dale replied, “We all have a role to play.” Sam’s role was lure; Dean’s was cleaning up his dad’s mess.
I’m sure someone will correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t think that the season one through five narrative supports the idea that Sam was the lure once he and Dean got back together. That being said, Kripke era canon hasn’t stopped the Carver Administration from doing what they want. (Or perhaps that’s just Metatron’s re-writing of their history?) That being said, I like the idea that Sam getting captured and tied up so frequently has more to do with an ingrained if not consciously intentional strategy rather than Sam just being a poor hunter. We know he isn’t. He has proven he can successfully hunt on his own.
Another parallel between Annie and Sam is feelings of deep-seated guilt. Annie certainly echoed Sam’s feelings as he lay dying in the season nine premiere:
Annie: I love you, Mama. I do, but I couldn’t take it anymore – the blood and the death, the sounds of their screams. I just … I can’t do it anymore. The way I feel afterwards, the guilt … I’d rather die than feel that way again.
Sam knew that he’d been used in ways in the past that got other people hurt, and he asked Death to guarantee that if he died no one could bring him back, so others couldn’t be hurt. In tricking him into possession, Dean brought more of that guilt down on him when Gadreel killed Kevin. I feel that Dean is battling this feeling now. He’s tempted to give in to the Mark of Cain and let his humanity die rather than continue feeling the guilt for the people he’s hurt – Sam included. I’ve struggled with the Mark of Cain “turning Dean dark” for awhile because there has always been that darkness in Dean. It’s the monster that he would have become if he’d listened to Gordon Walker in “Bloodlust.” It was first instilled in him by John. It’s that part which seeks revenge, sees the world without moral nuance, and revels in killing.
There was a time when Dean tried to protect his little brother by sheltering him from knowledge of the supernatural. He wanted Sam to have the opportunity to just be a kid, but protecting Sam that way allowed Sam to hold onto a hope and an idealism that John ground of Dean at an early age. Sam was able to see gray areas where Dean couldn’t, and Dean finds that very uncomfortable to deal with. It’s something that he resents and I think has unconsciously tried to stop by calling Sam’s judgment into question. That’s what killing Amy was really about. Had Sam been well, I don’t think that Dean would have been so successful, but given Sam’s own doubts about his mental capacity at the time, Dean essentially bullied Sam into admitting that Dean was probably right. He was too close to the situation, but when he tried to use that same tactic with Dean and Benny, Dean would have none of it.
Here’s the bigger problem though. I don’t think that Dean sees himself as being in the wrong with his bullying of Sam. The crux of the problem is that Dean has come to treat Sam as John treated him. He has to believe his dad loves him, and it would call into question his father’s love for him if he admitted that how he sometimes treats Sam is wrong. Dean is a case of arrested development. He was never allowed to be a child, which would have allowed for normal emotional and mental development. His guide for behavior was John. He internalized that model – a model that included manipulation, bullying, and self-deception that led to conclusions like “he did the best he could.” Both boys have said it, and it’s easy to see how they might both apply it to Dean’s behavior as well. Sam is just lately saying essentially that “best isn’t good enough.”
Sam wanted to know the truth about their lives as a kid and eventually stole John’s journal in order to learn the truth. Sam demanded to know the truth from John when they got back together in season one. Many of Sam and Dean’s fights have been about Dean trying to dominate the relationship. Confronted with Annie’s pain, Mama didn’t recognize that what she did in stealing and holding onto the girl was wrong. Instead, she tried to convince herself and Annie that her crime was being too kind and that Annie could stop the pain if she’d just become like her.
Mama: It was so selfish. I wanted to watch you grow up. I kept putting it off. Don’t you see? These things you’ve been feeling – all the guilt and suffering – those are human feelings. It ain’t too late. I can take the pain away, and then we can stay together, as a family. Like none of this ever happened. Wouldn’t you like that?
This is essentially what John did to Dean when he demanded that he leave Sal’s in “Bad Boys” and what Dean has repeatedly done to Sam when he’s bullied or shamed him into towing the line. The issue, to me at least, isn’t about Sam going off and having a normal life, but Sam compromising his principles and judgments while working with Dean. It’s about giving up his autonomy and his humanity. I know that a lot of fans will disagree with me, but I think that Sam’s beef with John and with Dean has been far more about his role in the family business than about hunting itself.
It’s possible that Dean’s thinking is that Sam is naïve in his approach. Keeping him in the dark for so long wasn’t doing Sam a favors. It’s that gray area stuff that leads to guilt and suffering that plagues them both? As John taught him and Gordon Walker later argued, “It’s all black and white. There’s no maybe. You find the bad thing, kill it. See, most people spend their lives in shades of gray. Is this right? Is that wrong? Not us.” But even Gordon recognized that Sam was different: “I’m not saying he’s wrong. Just different. But you and me? We were born to do this. It’s in our blood.”
That is a very dangerous point. We’ve seen Dean on a slow slippery slope to becoming his father. In season six, he made Lisa and Ben virtual prisoners in an attempt to protect them. Sam pointed out that he was acting like John, and Dean appeared to back off. I think though that in other ways, he continued his descent. He had Cas mindwipe Lisa and Ben, he browbeat Sam on a number of occasions, he lied and killed Amy, in season eight he refused to see Sam’s side and threw his mistakes in his face repeatedly, he made it clear that his new vampire friend was a better brother than Sam had ever been. Those were the strategies that his father had modeled for him and used against him. Still traumatized from the tortures of hell, which he’d never dealt with, and the constant battles of purgatory, Dean grasped at those strategies like a drowning man reaches for a life preserver. This isn’t to excuse his behavior but to explain it.
I haven’t even talked about Jody, which is a shame because she was awesome in this episode. She was smart and resourceful and strong. She stood up vampire Mama and to the boys, and she admitted when she was wrong. She had a couple of scenes in particular that I think were important. In the final confrontation with the mother vampire, she realized that the reason the mother vampire had changed Annie’s name to Alexis was that the vampire had lost a daughter by that name. Jody accused her of using Annie to try to ease the pain of her grief, and the vampire became enraged.
Mama: You don’t know what motherhood is.
Jody: Maybe not, but I know what it isn’t. It isn’t about forcing her to become like you the moment she becomes inconvenient.
This is relevant both in John’s treatment of Dean and Dean’s of Sam. “Bad Boys” changed the way we had to look at Dean. Rather than being made into daddy’s little soldier from the beginning, we’re led to believe that Dean had a opportunity to escape but gave it up for his little brother. Dean chose to go back for Sam, and when Sam went to Stanford, Dean chose to stay for John. We don’t know what changed Dean in the years in between that he didn’t see Sam leaving as an opportunity to get out himself, but I’d guess that John had Dean cowed by then – not Sam. John was clearly a “my way or the highway kind of guy. Their argument in “Dead Man’s Blood” suggests the dynamic that went on:
John to Sam: Yeah. You left. Your brother and me, we needed you. You walked away, Sam…. (Yelling in SAM’S face) You walked away!!
Dean: Stop it, both of you.
Sam: You’re the one who said don’t come back Dad, you closed that door not me. You were just pissed off that you couldn’t control me anymore!
But John did have Dean, and he could control him. While separated in “Scarecrow,” Dean told Sam: You’ve always known what you want. And you go after it. You stand up to Dad. And you always have. Hell, I wish I – anyway….I admire that about you. I’m proud of you, Sammy.” Nothing makes me sadder than how season one Dean has been replaced by a carbon copy of John – someone willing destroy the person he loves most in order to hang onto him, just as the mother vampire was willing to destroy Annie.
The hint of hope I saw in this episode had to do with Jody’s admission that her judgment was clouded..
Dean: We were wrong about the girl.
Jody: No, you were right about me. My judgment was clouded. You know working this case, it brought feelings back – feelings I’ve been trying to bury for years, you know, buried it under work, religion … even dating. We know how well that worked out. But, you know, it’s still there underneath, you know … the grief. I don’t know what that means for me, just that I’ve been fooling myself to think that I could ignore it.
Just as the mother vampire tried to use Annie to fill the hole left by her daughter, Jody had tried using work, religion, and even dating to fill the space left by her husband and son’s deaths. When Jess and later Dean died, Sam turned to revenge. He tried to avoid that when Dean disappeared in 7.23. Instead, he tried a healthier strategy. He tried to fixing things – the Impala, the dog, things around the motel, Amelia. I’d argue that he was only using them to fill the void left by Dean’s death as this exchange with Amelia’s father indicates:
Sam: You think that’s what I’m doing here? Just holding on?
Stan: I think the two of you are holding on to each other, yeah. ‘Cause I know she’s scared. After what happened to Don, I don’t blame her for taking off. Needing to run away and hide – I know why she did it. The question is – what are you running from, Sam?
Sam was using Amelia and that normal life to run from his grief and fill the hole where his brother had been. Dean, of course, is using Sam to fill the void left by everything he’s lost – his mom, his childhood, the life he might have made at Sal’s, his dad, Cassie, Lisa and Ben. The difference is that Sam wasn’t manipulating Amelia into being with him, and although he hid a lot about himself from her, he didn’t try to make her into what he needed her to be.
It was pretty clear that Annie was reflecting where Sam was in “Sacrifice” when she told Jody: “When Mama offered, I couldn’t disappoint her again.” Sam is trying to stand his ground, but the dynamic between he and Dean really hasn’t changed all that much. Despite his demand that they just be co-workers and not brothers, his behavior is still very much that of brother. Whether Sam would be able to withstand disappointing Dean again is still questionable. And for all the times that Sam has let Dean down, Dean has let Sam down as well. He’s well aware of that and the people he’s killed, those who have been hurt and killed just for being his friend or his family. But every time he holds the First Blade all that falls away. Like purgatory, there’s a purity in it – no guilt or suffering – not unlike Soulless!Sam. The Mark of Cain hasn’t created a darkness that wasn’t in Dean before. What it’s doing is seducing him to become a monster – devoid of compassion or remorse – to revel in the blood and the violence where there’s no suffering or guilt.
I think that last scene with Jody and Annie was symbolic. It modeled what a good parent does. Much as Jody wants to be a mother to Annie, she didn’t tell her that. She didn’t tell Annie she had to stay with her. She offered to be what Annie needed – friend, mother, sister. She’s offering support and giving Annie independence. She knows how Annie was treated before and how she was controlled. She was careful not to commit the same act.
Jody: What you’ve been through in the last 48 hours alone, losing everything that you’ve ever known or loved – no one can understand that.
Annie: You could.
The contrast of this pair with Sam and Dean is heartbreaking. Jody and Annie here represent what Sam and Dean could and should be for one another. There’s no one who could understand what they’ve been through as individuals – their childhood, their losses and their traumas – better than the other, but as suggested in THINMAN, they can’t see the forest for the trees.