There’s an article over on ScreenRant provocatively titled “20 Things Wrong with Sam and Dean Everyone Chooses to Ignore” which has a lot of people talking today. I rarely weigh in on other people’s articles because everyone has a right to their own opinion when it comes to this fictional show and these fictional characters – your interpretation, my interpretation, YMMV. And considering its provocative title, the controversy is probably exactly what the author was going for. A number of people have weighed in in the comments and made some very good points, so I also don’t want to belabor those points, but I will admit that when I got to the No. 1 thing I started shaking my head so fast I nearly gave myself whiplash. Then a few people asked me to weigh in with my psychologist hat on, so I thought, why not. However, my fangirl hat is definitely on as well, so I look sort of funny right now balancing two hats at once.
Anyway, let’s touch on these one at a time. I don’t disagree with everything in the article, but I do have a different viewpoint on some of the assertions.
20. They always come back to life. More a criticism of the writers than Sam and Dean, who even if they were real and had any agency, most likely wouldn’t be the ones to blame for this. Yes, it dilutes the emotional power of death scenes somewhat, but it also keeps a show on the air for 14 seasons. (Also I still sobbed like a baby when Sam died in the tunnels last season and Dean couldn’t save him, both while I watched it be filmed and when I saw it onscreen. I as a viewer may know that Sam will be back, but Dean the character does not know any such thing, and it was in empathy for him that I sobbed. Like a lot.)
19. Dean’s history with women. Is it problematic? Sure. Not in all the ways asserted here, I don’t think. But what I quibble with here most is the assertion that “it’s an aspect of Dean that fans try to ignore.” Not in my fannish circles, that’s for sure! I have a new book coming out all about the evolution of female characters on Supernatural, so my perspective may be a bit skewed, but we’ve all been talking about this since Season 1, way back on Live Journal meta commentary communities.
18. Sam always gets knocked out. Okay, I kinda agree with this one. My reviews often contain rants about Sam or Dean not being the smart and capable hunters we know they are. It’s a contrivance that keeps the story going, but it can create some head scratching.
17. Dean idolizes their abusive father. I think that was true at one time, but not any more. That’s been part of Dean’s evolution as a character, coming to terms with his idolization of both John and Mary. The thing is, it’s not unrealistic. I’ve worked with many children whose parents were a lot more overtly abusive than John, but the children still love the parents. We’re wired that way; we’ll do whatever mental gymnastics we have to do in order to maintain our view of our parents as people who love us and will take care of us. The alternative is just too terrifying. The way Dean was raised, he had to step up early on and push things like anger and disappointment and longing for love out of the way in order to survive, and to ensure that Sam survived. A defensive blanket acceptance of everything John Winchester told him was the perfect way to do that. However, Dean hasn’t been frozen there; he sees both his parents now more as flawed humans whose motives and behavior can be questioned instead of blindly accepted.
16. Sam’s hair is always flawless. Well, yeah. Screw realism, just give me all of them looking beautiful.
15. They are unhealthily codependent. Codependent? Definitely. If they were real people and came to me for counseling, I’d probably try to help them explore that and where it came from and if it’s working for them in the present. Luckily for Supernatural fans, they’re not real people. And that codependence is what hooked me on the show in the first place. It’s the compelling hook of the whole story – that’s the point of fiction, which lets us explore things that we never would in real life. I mean, in real life I probably wouldn’t advise people to hook up with vampires either, but in television or film or books? Hey, sometimes that’s the BEST story. The assertion that fans are “all too aware of this weakness and try not to focus on it” doesn’t ring true though. Most fans are well aware of the codependence, which has been referenced in canon a zillion times and has literally helped to save the world once or twice – but they are all too happy to focus on it. Not as a weakness, but one of the unique characteristics of this show that set it apart from most others.
14. Sam hasn’t had his own arc in forever. There have been seasons when I have agreed with this. I’ve been frustrated sometimes by the particular story line of that season that felt like it sidelined Sam, but I don’t think it’s a constant thing. Jared and Jensen have both said that they feel that the focus swings back and forth, and they like it that way. Still, I’m in partial agreement – my favorite story lines involve the brothers equally, with both playing an integral part.
13. Dean genuinely enjoys violence. There’s also an assertion in here that “his morality is questionable”. There are times in the show when this has been true because of outside interference (the Mark of Cain, being a demon, Hell, Purgatory, etc), and there have been a few times when Dean did something that seemed so out of character to me that I wondered if he’d sustained some sort of personality-altering injury (his killing of Amy Pond, for example). But most of the time, one of the main points of the show is watching Dean and Sam – and Castiel and now Jack – struggle with morality. I love that the show doesn’t paint in black and white, but lets us see the shades of grey that make up the moral dilemmas of the real world. Does Dean struggle with them? Absolutely. Does he always make the “right” decision? No. Neither do most of us. But unless he’s got the Mark of Cain or is in Purgatory, I don’t think Dean enjoys violence. In fact, we’ve seen him upset and ravaged with guilt over some of the violence he himself has caused.
12. Sam has awful and tragic love interests. I feel for poor Sam, but I don’t think this can be counted as something that’s wrong with him. He has bad luck, that’s for sure. And again, if he was a real person and a real client, I’d help him figure out what part he’s playing in all that bad luck and where those choices originated from. But he’s not, so this is just part of the story. Don’t get me started about the Amelia story arc though…
11. They abandoned Adam in hell. Okay, that does smart. In fact, it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to me, so I guess I agree. It feels like somebody wrote the half-brother thing in and then everyone regretted it and swept it right under the rug, never to be mentioned again. I think fans – and Jake Abel – are well aware that’s what happened, however.
10. Dean’s eating habits haven’t affected his health. We do see Sam tease him that it might someday, and the character has just hit 40 and is very active and fit, so it might just be too early for it to take a toll. That’s if this was real life, of course, and Jensen Ackles actually ate like Dean Winchester! The show does have a way of magnifying character traits to the extreme, but it’s an affectionate poking fun. I’m not sure how fun it would be to have a story line about Dean having to start taking Prilosec or developing a chronic illness. That’s what fanfiction is for.
9. Sam is the reason why the Apocalypse started. Sam certainly didn’t start the apocalypse alone – you can blame Castiel, or Dean, or way back to Mary, or the angels, take your pick – but Sam definitely doesn’t deserve all of it. Nor can you blame him (if blaming a fictional character was indeed possible) for Ruby – the whole point of that arc was a brilliant exploration of what grief does to a person and the power of addiction. I have empathy for all of them in that scenario, caught in a manipulation that was on a nearly divine level. The show has done a great job of exploring the old saying ‘the road to hell is paved with good intentions’ multiple times, and this is one of them. I actually was more irritated that Dean and Cas and even random guest characters blamed solely Sam for the Apocalypse more than once, and probably did some screaming at my television set to set them straight. Again, I don’t think fans have forgotten – Supernatural fans forget very little – but they have empathy for how and why that eventuality happened.
8. Their lack of scars. I’ll go with you on this one. In the best fanfiction, their scars are something significant – a road map of all the Winchesters have done to save the world (and yes, each other) again and again. Something that makes them who they are and reminds them of what they’ve sacrificed. On the other hand, I’ve watched while make up applies some of that stuff, and it’s a time consuming and sloppy business that probably costs more than the CW is budgeting for this little show. But again, not something I’d include as Sam and Dean doing wrong, just an artifact of television making.
7. Sam flip flops between wanting to be a hunter and wanting a normal life. This is true. That’s been a large part of Sam’s story arc throughout the seasons. Both Sam and Dean have entertained the fantasy of having a “normal life” at some point, because they’re human and of course they have – but both have also learned and eventually accepted that it’s not possible. Whether because of the collateral damage to innocent people or because at this point it’s not in their blood to spend their days barbequeing in suburbia, both realize it’s not in the cards. And Sam has expressed that he’s okay with that; Dean has as well. That evolution – the fact that there HAS been evolution – has kept the show going for 14 seasons and the characters fascinating.
6. Their police record is inconsistent. Agreed. Again, I don’t think this is something “wrong” with Sam and Dean, but it is one of those annoying artifacts of having to write a television show and keep it semi-consistent for 14 seasons. And yes, it’s true. Sometimes we do have to ignore some things that don’t quite make sense for the sake of consuming our fiction – I do totally agree that it makes for a better show, the less often we have to do that!
5. Sam’s relationship with Ruby. Not my favorite story line in the whole series, but I could make sense of it. Sam had lost Dean, and every time Sam loses Dean, he loses himself too. He does things, thinks things, feels things, that he would not feel if Dean was still alive and with him. Ruby was smart and savvy and determined, and knew just how to take advantage of that vulnerability and his guilt over letting it happen. She was a fascinating character because of how good she was at that, and how perfectly she played Sam to pull him away from Dean. It was a great metaphor for both addiction and an abusive relationship – it was a dark dark story line, and that’s not pleasant and in fact was at times very hard to watch – but it was a compelling one.
4. They don’t earn their money honestly. There’s a great academic article out there about class and Supernatural, and it addresses this issue better than I have room to here. Part of the appeal of the Winchesters is that they are absolutely not perfect. I mean, think about these poor people who lost their credit cards and suddenly have 3 nights in the Out There Motel charged to them? That’s not cool. Hopefully they have credit card protection. Again, I don’t think fandom necessarily ignores this though – there are plenty of great articles and metas out there about the Winchesters’ particular brand of flawed heroism.
3. Sam’s college years are inconsistent. I don’t think we have much choice but to ignore those sort of discrepancies – it’s true, they’re annoying, but I try not to let that annoyance ruin my enjoyment of the show as a whole (and succeed most of the time…) Not all the time, I admit.
2. They both have mommy issues. They do. BIG mommy issues. So would anyone whose mother was first an inconsistent caregiver, sometimes there and sometimes taking off or distracted by hunting, and then literally disappeared out of their lives in a burnt instant. Add to that the Daddy issues that were heaped on top of that loss, and you’ve got two very messed up Winchesters. Again, if this was real life, I’d be prescribing decades of therapy. But since it’s not, that is part of what makes these characters so compelling. They’re broken and traumatized and imperfect and constantly struggling to figure out how to do the right thing – it’s the source of that codependence we talked about before and the unique unbreakable bond between them. Kripke wrote them that way from day one, and it’s made them fascinating characters ever since. Mary’s return to the show actually made those wounds worse in some ways, instead of allowing some working through – it was abandonment on top of abandonment. Even if that made sense for Mary as an individual, that’s a lot to deal with for two abandoned sons. I’d love to see the show tackle that evolution more since Mary is apparently sticking around.
1. They’re essentially psychopaths. Nope. They definitely are not. They are quite capable of empathy and interpersonal relationships and struggle with moral decisions all the time. The DSM5 is in fact careful to note that diagnosing someone with a personality disorder should not be done without taking into account whether the patterns of thinking or behaving are in response to the person’s sociocultural context, which is definitely relevant in the case of Sam and Dean. So no, not psychopaths. I’ll go with you on some of these, but that’s going too far!
Like I said, everyone is entitled to their opinions. I think the article was intended both to be provocative and to be more light-hearted than it ended up reading, but that last one was a doozy. I guess I’m protective of these characters, after all these years of loving them. My research on fandom (and on Supernatural) tends to focus on the positive aspects of being a fan and loving fictional characters – there’s actual research that shows that when we watch our favorite show, our brains release the same chemicals that get released when we sit down to dinner with our most beloved family or friends. I value that feeling, so I value these characters.
I agree with some of the things in the article, as I’ve noted. But Sam and Dean psychopaths? No. Are they perfect? Hell no. But if they were, they wouldn’t be Sam and Dean.
My two cents.
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