Last year I wrote a long post for Mr. Ackles’ birthday and the top five reasons he’s a pretty special person. This year, I find myself emotional in a slightly different way about Jensen’s birthday today – because this is the last year that on his birthday, he is still Dean Winchester.
I fervently hope that at some point in the future, Jensen will get to portray Dean again – and I know, because he has said it more than once – that Dean will always be a part of him. But this is the last March 1st when Jensen is Dean and Supernatural is still filming and on the air. The last birthday when Dean’s story is not yet fully told, and the character that Jensen has inhabited for the past fifteen years is still so much a part of him – likely in a way that no character will ever be again. It’s a rare and special thing to be able to play a single character for fifteen years, as he has often said; they become a part of you, a best friend who you come to love.
A few years ago, Jensen talked about a dream he’d had that really struck a chord and brought some surprisingly strong emotion. It was a dream about Dean, from Dean’s perspective. A dream in which Dean hands over the keys to the Impala to a motorcycle rider and trades vehicles – because Sam is dead and he no longer needs a vehicle with a passenger seat. Recently, Misha mentioned the dream too, saying that Jensen had shared it with him and Jared and they had all gotten emotional. At the time he had the dream, I’d had the chance to talk to Jensen about it. Perhaps, I’d said, the dream was not just about Sam losing Dean, but was as much about Jensen thinking about eventually having to say goodbye to Supernatural – to Jared, to Misha, to Bob, to Jerry, to Serge, to the crew he loves. I think that’s why it hit all three of the actors so hard to remember it now, knowing there’s only one more month of filming. It’s not like they won’t see each other or remain friends, but it will inevitably be different. Just like the everyday happenings in the fandom will change, Jensen has to say goodbye not only to Dean, but to Sam and Cas and Jack too.
So this post is a reminder of how much Dean Winchester has meant to me and to so many others, as Jensen and his fellow actors face saying goodbye to their beloved characters (temporarily at least!). A reminder that as hard as it is to say goodbye, Castiel’s words to Jack are still true. We are so lucky to have had this time with these characters – to know them and to love them. So lucky that they were here at all.
Dean Winchester, more than any other fictional character ever, taught me to never give up. That you don’t have to be perfect to be a good person, or win every battle to keep on fighting. You can be flawed, and constantly struggling, and ricocheting back and forth between good decisions and bad ones, and still hang onto the goal of doing what’s right. Of fighting every day with the purpose of saving people, hunting things. That works literally in the show, but figuratively in real life, and has inspired countless people to try to change the world for the better in a million ways.
Dean’s incredible, unshakeable loyalty and the way he fiercely, unabashedly loves those he calls family – perfectly willing to move heaven and hell to save their lives and keep them with him – has been a revelation. I’ve never encountered another character as determined as Dean Winchester. Do not get in between him and someone he cares about, because he will never ever give up making sure they’re safe.
He’s not perfect, and I wouldn’t want him to be. He can be singleminded and obtuse and lashes out when he’s hurt in ways that can hurt others (even those he cares so much about). He started out a product of the way he was raised, brittle and defended and brusque because of it. It took me a whole season to really understand the depth of emotion and vulnerability he was hiding under that gruff no-chick-flicks-moments exterior, and another fourteen seasons to understand how much it eventually cost him to let some of those walls down. His moments of vulnerability have brought me to tears again and again. I’ve been there to see how much those moments cost Jensen the real person in real time, too; how real those tears are. I’m pretty sure that’s why they get to me the way they do.
I am incredibly grateful for Dean Winchester and the inspiration he’s brought me for the past fifteen years. I’m incredibly grateful that Jensen Ackles cared so much about this character that he brought him to life and made him real, and never let him become a caricature. No matter where the story went, Jensen kept Dean being Dean. Because he cared about the closest imaginary friend he’ll ever have, as he recently said. He talks about his relationship with Dean in the chapter he contributed to the new book, There’ll Be Peace When You Are Done, and I’ll hang onto his words whenever I start to miss Dean Winchester too acutely.
I’m sure that next birthday, there will be all sorts of new things to celebrate – because this is Jensen Ackles we’re talking about. He’s talented in so many ways, and perhaps more importantly, he’s a kind and caring person who always gives 100%. There will be other acting roles, perhaps more directing. Already there’s that incredible Radio Co. album full of songs, and I’m sure that’s only the tip of the iceberg. After that dream sequence recently, maybe we’ll see him struttin’ his stuff on Dancing With The Stars (sorry, Jensen, couldn’t resist…) I’ll celebrate Jensen’s future successes and be excited for every step of his journey. This year, though, I’m wishing Jensen a happy birthday and celebrating the fifteen years he’s put into crafting the most amazing, inspiring, heroic, entirely human fictional character I’ve ever had the pleasure of ‘meeting’.
Happy birthday, Jensen.
Thank you for Dean Winchester.
You can read what Jensen and many
other actors (and fans) have to say about
the legacy of Supernatural in There’ll Be
Peace When You Are Done – preorder
links on the home page!