I love this episode so much – it’s scary, creepy, touching, and it brings the narrative back to what Season 1 was so much about, Sam and Dean’s search for their mysterious and elusive father, John Winchester and their rediscovery of being brothers. Like most episodes in this season, it’s also beautifully filmed and full of atmosphere, including the opening scene – which takes place in the windy city.
A young woman walks down the street, blues music playing. Her Walkman glitches, which looks very 2005, and the wind starts howling in the alley. She looks around, asking what people always ask in horror movies, as though being polite might get a bad guy to answer you.
“Hello?” she calls, and there’s no answer, but she’s scared as she hurries to her apartment door. Shadows loom behind her n the walls of the alley as she runs, a giant shadow seemingly following her. Breathless, she fumbles for keys and can’t find them, like in the worst of nightmares. Finally she gets in the door and inside, locking the door behind her and setting the alarm.
‘System armed’ it says, and she sighs with relief, checking her vintage (not at at the time) answering machine. Just as she thinks she’s safe, a shadow moves behind her on the walls, it’s giant shadow hand reaching out for her shadow and stabbing her, blood splattering on the wall as she screams and falls.
Quite an opening!
A week later, Sam and Dean drive, rock music playing. When they get out of the car they’re in uniform, which Dean isn’t exactly thrilled about (but frankly these two look good whatever they’re wearing).
Dean: Dad made it just fine without these stupid uniforms.
That brings back a memory, which gives us a rare and cherished glimpse of young Sam and Dean, when Sam was in ‘Our Town’.
Dean (smiling at the memory) Yeah, you were good.
I’m all warm at the thought of Dean going to see Sammy’s school play, though I wonder if that means John didn’t. I’m glad Sam got to do that though. (My daughter did the same school play, so I had an even stronger nostalgic reaction). I’m always so grateful when we get a glimpse of Sam and Dean’s childhood. Dean brings up the memory more like a proud parent here, not a brother who was forced to go sit through a school play.
They’re posing as working for the alarm company, so the landlady lets them in, but she’s not very impressed with their fake company.
Landlady: No offense, but your alarm’s about as useful as boobs on a man.
I like the landlady.
She tells them there’s no sign of a break in, the chain was on the door and the alarm was still on.
Landlady: Everything was in perfect condition. Except Meredith.
What condition was she in, the boys ask?
Landlady: Meredith was all over – in pieces! Like a wild animal did it.
After she’s gone, Sam says he knew this was their kind of gig, and Dean pulls out the EMF and says he agrees.
Dean has also done some reconnaissance, with Amy, a “charming perky officer of the law.”
What did he find out, Sam wants to know.
Dean: She’s a Sagittarius, loves tequila, and she’s got this little tattoo…
Look at that wide-eyed innocence.
Dean: (smirking) Nothing we don’t already know, except… Meredith’s heart was missing.
This episode, and much of Season 1, has the brothers constantly either teasing each other about hook ups or interrogating each other about them, as they become increasingly entangled in each other’s lives.
Sam says it was probably a spirit, and then somehow Dean gets the idea to connect the random blood splatters on the floor with masking tape, and it forms some kind of symbol (it didn’t make a lot of sense to me, honestly, since there were other splatters too that he didn’t connect, but whatever. Smart boys, I’ll take it.)
Dean: Ever see that symbol before?
Dean: Me neither.
Okay, that just made it even less plausible, but moving on.
The boys continue their research at a bar, Dean flirting with the bartender when Sam comes in and asks if he got anything.
Dean: Besides her number?
Sam: Mind doing a little bit of thinking with your upstairs brain, Dean?
Dean grins, unrepentant. Sam didn’t find anything in their Dad’s journal either.
Dean: So to recap, the only successful intel we’ve scored so far is the bartender’s phone number… Sam?
Sam, focused on someone across the room, walks away, leaving Dean befuddled. It’s Meg, to Sam’s surprise – and seemingly to her surprise too. Helluva coincidence though.
She says she left California after meeting “Something Michael Murray” at a bar and “the scene got old” (A shout out to Jared and Jensen’s friend Chad Michael Murray, who figured prominently in all the early seasons’ fanfic for some reason).
Dean stands behind Sam as he talks to Meg, clearing his throat trying to be noticed (and ready for more of that teasing or interrogation…)
Meg: Gosh, Sam, what are the odds we’d run into each other?
Meg: Dude, cover your mouth!
Dean looks so affronted, I just wanna hug him.
Sam: Sorry, this is my brother, Dean.
Meg’s eyebrow go up.
Meg: This is Dean…
Dean (brightening) So you’ve heard of me?
Meg: Nice, the way you treat your brother like luggage! Why don’t you stop dragging him over God’s green earth?
Sam assures her it’s all right, but Dean is clearly hurt. He plays it off, saying “phew okay awkward, I’m gonna get a drink now” but Jensen shows us that Dean heard loud and clear that Sam was resenting him the last time he was with this woman. Knowing what we know now, post finale, about how insecure Dean was about Sam, this must have really cut deep.
Meg to Sam: Sorry, it’s just the way you told me he treats you.
Sam: He means well.
She gives him her number, flirty, and then Sam returns to Dean, saying he only met her once and it’s weird that he’d meet her again. Sam’s suspicious, but as they leave the bar, all Dean can think about is being hurt.
Dean: What was she saying, I treat you like luggage? You bitchin’ about me to some chick? Is there truth to what she’s saying – am I keeping you against your will?
It’s exactly what Dean is worried about, what his deepest fears are, and Meg just brilliantly used that to get to him and to get between them. Sam’s more worried about Meg herself though.
Sam: No, of course not. There’s something strange going on here.
Dean needs to save face, so he defaults to a joke, pretending to care more about what Meg thinks of him than what his brother thinks of him.
Dean: Yeah, tell me about it – she wasn’t even that into me.
Sam points out that running into her was weird; Dean says it could be a random coincidence, that happens.
Sam: Yeah, but not to us. There’s something abut her that I can’t put my finger on…
Dean grins, happy to change the subject and also to find a way to tease his little brother.
Dean: Yeah, but you’d like to. Maybe you’re thinking too much with your upstairs brain, huh? What’re you gonna do?
Sam: Watch Meg.
Dean: (grinning even more) Yeah all right you little pervert.
They are, as always, way too invested in each other’s romantic lives. In retrospect, Dean being afraid Sam’s going to up and leave again might have been part of why he keeps pushing Sam at any woman who shows some interest, as if he’s trying to test Sam’s willingness to stay.
Dean calls Sam in the car.
Dean: Lemme guess, you’re lurking outside that poor girl’s apartment, aren’t you?
Sam: No. Yes.
Dean: Well, she checks out. Invite her to a poetry reading or whatever it is you do.
He also says that the symbol is Zoroastrian, 2000 BC, a sigil for a daeva, a demon of darkness – like a demonic pitbull. Sam’s impressed.
Dean: Gimme some credit, man, you don’t have the corner on the paper chase. Okay, called Dad’s friend Caleb.
He also says that someone’s controlling it, but that daevas tend to bite the hand that feeds them.
Dean: Now go give that girl a private strip-o-gram.
Sam: Bite me.
Dean: No, bite her! But don’t leave teeth marks… Sam?
Sam hangs up on him.
That second cap is just because sometimes I cannot get over certain things. Like those ridiculous lips. Anyway…
Sam does watch, with some interest, while Meg parades around in a black bra, until a lady passing by stops and looks in at him and hisses “pervert!”
Sam really cannot get a break. Meg finally goes out and Sam follows, climbing up an elevator shaft to spy on her. He’s agile like a cat and it’s a pleasure to watch, with gorgeous cinematography, but scary as hell to see Sam climb up an elevator shaft!
Meg chants Latin, stirs blood in a chalice before an altar and says to someone “I don’t think you should come, the brothers are in town.”
Whoever she’s talking to doesn’t agree, and Meg finally says “Yessir. Yes I’ll be here waiting for you.”
Sam finds the Zoroastrian symbol there in blood and heads back to meet up with Dean. The second they see each other, they both say in unison. “Dude, I gotta talk to you.”
Rewatch gang: Winsync!
Sam tells Dean about Meg talking into the bowl of blood and communicating with someone, and Dean can’t resist teasing him again.
Dean: Sammy’s got a thing for the bad girl…
Dean’s got news too.
Dean: I pulled a favor with my friend Amy at the police department. We missed something the first time. The first victim was born in Lawrence, Kansas. Meredith was adopted. Where was she born? Lawrence.
Sam: Holy crap.
One of the things that made the early seasons so compelling was everything seeming to tie together – and all of it with the Winchesters at the center of it. It was a wonderful years-long mystery of the Yellow Eyed Demon and the demon blood and his plans for them, spooling out little by little like the best of mysteries.
The brothers realize that Meg might be tied up with the demon, and Dean calls their dad, saying they think they have a serious lead on the thing that killed mom. He leaves the address of the warehouse on John’s voicemail while Sam brings in supplies from the Impala’s trunk.
Dean: Jeez, what’d you get?
Sam: I ransacked that trunk. Not sure what to expect, so expect everything, huh?
Smart boys. They load their guns, an iconic Supernatural moment, the everyday life of hunters and also Sam and Dean being brothers.
Dean: Big night.
Sam: You nervous?
Dean: No, why are you?
Sam: No, no way.
They’re both lying, but also both excited at the hope of maybe killing the thing that took their mother and Jessica.
Sam: Could you imagine if we actually found the demon? What if this whole thing is over tonight? I could go back to school, be a person again…
Dean looks shocked before he covers it with feigned nonchalance.
Dean: You’d go back to school? Huh.
Sam: Why, something wrong with that?
Dean’s clearly hurt, and thinking about it from the perspective of the finale, that must have been exactly what he was afraid of the whole time, coming true right before his eyes. That Sam will leaves as soon as he can, that they won’t be a family again.
He turns away, avoiding Sam and trying to compose himself, get back that studied nonchalance that he values so much.
Dean: No, great, good for you.
Sam: Man, what are you gonna do when this is over?
Dean loses his composure a little then, turning on Sam.
Dean: It’s never gonna be over! There’ll always be something to hunt.
Sam’s caught off guard, doesn’t know where Dean’s anger is coming from. He asks, isn’t there something that Dean wants?
Dean: Yeah, I don’t want you to leave the second this thing’s over, Sam!
This is such a painful scene to watch, and even more painful now, as Sam demands to know what his brother’s problem is and Dean grabs the bureau like it’s the only thing anchoring him at that moment. He was just achingly honest with his brother, vulnerable in a way that must have cost him a lot.
Dean (anguished) Why do you think I drag you everywhere, huh? Why do you think I came to get you?
Sam: Cuz Dad was in trouble, because you wanted to find the thing that killed mom…
Dean: Yeah, but it’s more than that, man., You and me. And Dad. I want us to be together again. I want us to be a family again.
Sam gets it then, or at least he thinks he does, and there’s sadness but also determination when he answers, his voice gentle.
Sam: Dean, we ARE a family. I’d do anything for you. But things will never be the way they were before.
Dean: (with the saddest, most desperate look of hope) Could be.
Sad music starts to play and I found myself starting to tear up, knowing what’s coming. Tears glisten in both boys’ eyes.
Sam: I don’t want them to be. I’m not gonna live this life forever. Dean, when this is all over, you’re gonna have to let me go my own way.
The look on Dean’s face, right there, is one of the reasons I fell in love with this show. So much heartbreak, but he pushes it down again, after making himself vulnerable and telling Sam how he really feels, what he really hopes for. It kills me that he did that and Sam shut him down, no matter how gently he did it and no matter how much Sam isn’t doing anything wrong at all. It breaks my heart anyway.
God, I love this show.
The brothers put their differences aside and climb up the elevator to spy on Meg, and I’m impressed by the set dec, creepy mannequins in the background.
They draw their guns, looking badass (and not realizing how unprepared they actually are for what they’re up against)
Meg: Guys, hiding’s a little childish, don’t you think?
Dean: That didn’t work out like I’d planned.
Meg summons a daeva, who tosses the brothers around the room. They wake up scratched and bleeding, tied to beams.
Dean: Hey Sam, don’t take this the wrong way, but your girlfriend? Is a bitch.
They realize the whole thing was a trap, the Lawrence thing just a ploy to draw them in.
Meg: Not very quick on the uptake, are we? This trap isn’t for you.
Sam: Dad. It’s a trap for Dad.
Dean’s all bravado even tied to a post.
Dean: Oh sweetheart, you’re dumber than you look. He’s too good – and he’s not in town.
Meg allows that he is pretty good, crawling up to Dean and straddling him, her voice creepily seductive.
Meg: He has one weakness. You. He lets his guard down around his boys, lets his emotions cloud his judgement. I happen to know he is in town and he’ll come and try to save you.
She insists she’s doing this for the same reasons they do what they do – loyalty and love. She knows all about their mother and about Jess, she says, as she crawls over to Sam and straddles him, leaning in and almost kissing him.
Meg: C’mon Sam, no need to be nasty. I think we both know how you really feel about me. I saw you watching me, changing in my apartment. Turned you on, didn’t it?
Dean watches, as so often happens, rolling his eyes and hanging onto his snark even in their vulnerable situation.
Dean: Get a room you two…
Meg: I liked that you were watching me. Come on Sammy, you and I can still have a little fun.
I have to say, Nicki Aycox was incredible in this episode. She makes Meg scary and at the same time with so much personality that you have a bit of a soft spot for her too. She pulls off the creepy in this scene so well – one of the things that makes Supernatural unique is how many times it objectifies its male actors and puts them in vulnerable positions where a more powerful being can assault them, sometimes in a sexual way. Aycox makes that believable here, so that we cringe along with Sam and Dean as she ties them up and taunts them.
Sam pretends to go with it while Dean struggles to get free, but Meg realizes what they’re up to and takes the knife from Dean, preventing him from cutting himself loose.
Meg goes back to Sam.
Meg: Were you just going along because you were trying distract me while your brother gets free, Sam?
She resumes assaulting him, but Sam smirks as he says ‘no.’
Sam: No. It’s because I have a knife of my own.
Boom, he stabs her, and overturns the altar. The freed daevas attack her and drag her across the floor and right out the window – which is an amazing shot.
She lands on the cement several stories below. Sam frees Dean and helps him up, the brothers looking out the window at Meg’s body.
Sam: I guess the daevas didn’t like being bossed around.
Dean: Hey, Sam? Next time you wanna get laid, find a girl who’s not so buckets of crazy.
They return to the motel to find someone lurking in the room in the dark.
He turns around and to Sam and Dean’s shock, it’s their dad, smiling.
The boys are emotional, and so is John. He hugs Dean, says hi to Sam.
Dean: Dad, it was a trap. We didn’t know, I’m sorry.
John: I got there in time to see the girl take a swan dive. She was the bad guy, right?
Boys in unison: Yessir.
John tells them he’s planning to kill the demon and Sam asks him to let them come with him to help. John says no, that the demon is a scary sonofabitch and he doesn’t want them to get caught in the crossfire.
Sam: You don’t have to worry about us.
John: Course I do, I’m your father. Listen Sammy, last time we were together, we had one helluva fight.
John: It’s good to see you again, it’s been a long time
Sam (tearing up) Too long.
John tears up too, and pulls his younger son into a hug. Dean watches, his own eyes brimming with tears, wanting nothing more than to have his family back together again.
God forbid we should have a tender Winchester family reunion.
Just then, the daevas appear and attack John, a reanimated Meg outside on the sidewalk controlling them, her eyes black. John screams as the daevas rip into him, and then Sam screams at Dean and his father to shut their eyes.
Sam: Shadow demons – so let’s light them up!
He sets off a flare, Dean helps their dad up and they run outside and down to the street.
Sam tries to hurry Dean and their Dad into the car, saying that as soon as the flare’s out, they’ll be back, but Dean stops him.
Dean: Sam, wait, wait! Dad can’t come with us.
Sam argues, emotional and unwilling to lose their dad again when they’ve just found him, saying they should stick together.
Dean: Sam, listen to me. We almost got Dad killed in there. They’re not gonna stop, they’re gonna use us to get to him. Meg was right. Dad is vulnerable when he’s with us. He’s stronger without us around.
It’s the very last thing Dean wants to say, but he forces himself, trying to get through to his brother.
Sam: Dad, no, after everything, after all the time we spent looking for you, please. Please, I gotta be a part of this.
John: We are all gonna have a part to play, but for now you have to trust me, son. You gotta let me go.
It’s an echo of what Sam said to Dean earlier in the episode, and Dean listening is nearly in tears too, bleeding and distraught. Sam is crying outright, but lets his father go, patting him on the shoulder.
John walks away as sad music plays again. He looks back at them as he gets in the truck.
John: Be careful, boys.
Dean turns to Sam, hustling him into the car protectively.
They watch their dad’s truck’s tail lights disappear out the alley, exchanging a look. Then the Impala roars away in the other direction, while Meg stands on the street watching them drive away.
Talk about not feeling like you can wait for the next episode! What a great job this show did in pulling you in and keeping you eager for more. Stay tuned for the next episode in the rewatch, the introduction of the Ghostfacers in ‘Hell House’
caps by kayb625 with gratitude!
You can read about how Supernatural and
its fans have impacted Jared and Jensen and
the other actors in Family Don’t End With
Blood and There’ll Be Peace When You Are
Done. Links here or at peacewhenyouaredone.com
23 thoughts on “Supernatural Rewatch – The Return of John Winchester in ‘Shadow’”
A very dark and scary episode for sure. I remember Kim Manners saying something about how difficult Jensen found it doing that scene with Sam and telling him that he didn’t want Sam to go back to school. It wasn’t Deans usual cocky attitude and it was harder for Jensen to do.
This episode opened up the possibilities as to the whole demon world and what happened to Mary as well as the other things hiding in the shadows.
On a totally unrelated note, only Jensen and Jared could look so good with blood and scratches on their faces.
I remember that too – such good directing by Kim, because we needed to see and hear that vulnerability from Dean, and Jensen’s struggle with it came through so genuinely as Dean’s struggle also.
Hustled Sam into the car. Herding is more like it. Especially early on in the series Dean herded Sam. 🙂
Nice recap Lynn. It’s like reliving the episode in my own brain. We share a lot of the same viewpoints on our Show and I’m in awe of your explication. Love Dean so much. Jensen is one hell of an actor. Adore Sam always and forever. And JDFM is always a treat. I much prefer Rachel Miner’s Meg but I agree the Nicki hit this one out of the park
They sometimes seem like different characters to me, but both actresses really made Meg memorable
Thanks for the recap Lynne! Love your insights, and the screencaps, lol. Reminds me of my outrage when watching this ep streaming, they cut the scene of the boys getting out of the car and walking in their coveralls. Damn shame.
What??! How dare!
Up to now many of the episode titles have been very literal, Bugs, Wendigo, Hook Man, Bloody Mary. Here it shifts, the title is representative of the Daeva, but with the arrival of John Winchester, it also brings in the shadows that have haunted the Brothers entire lives along with the long shadow John’s actions will cast over their futures.
We see Dean sporting “The Plaid Shirt of Pain” that he wore in Home and will be wearing in AHBL, talk about his unlucky shirt of doom, perhaps the poor guy should have salted and burned it because every time he’s in it, it seems like something goes horribly wrong for his family.
It was good to see smart Winchesters again, Dean putting together patterns on a bloody rug was possibly (inadvertent/Jensen thinking ahead because he’s character smart) a foreshadowing of Dean being able to build and see patterns like John did, to be able to read between the lines when something isn’t quite what it seems, we see it again in The Usual Suspects, where he’s cuffed and under duress, yet happily solving anagrams in his head faster than Sam did on paper and yet again in Jump the Shark when he very quickly works out what happened to Adam’s Mom just by a quick look around her room, seeing things professional law enforcement missed.
Sam figuring out Meg was not there coincidentally was fast work and pretty impressive, he was acting from his gut which served him well. It was also funny seeing him being on the receiving end of the lady passer-by’s rightous indignation, he was so mortified she had the wrong idea, Jared played the comedy in that so well.
It was so sad seeing Sam hopeful of the release he deserved from the hunter life and not getting it and sad to see how his decision for his own independent future impacted Dean.
It must have felt to Dean as if his world was imploding, on the one hand they could possibly lay Mom’s memory to rest, which a part of him must have craved, but on the other his interpretation was that achieving justice would potentially come at the high price of Sam leaving him alone again.
Dean, having no sense of entitlement, in addition to being upset and a little angry, was ashamed to ask for what he needed from his brother. Having hustled up the courage to tell Sam he wanted his family, whole, safe and together, Dean was crushed by his brothers determination to move on and what he perceived as the rejection of his own dream.
The trauma and pain of Dean’s early life left him scarred and anxious, causing him on many occasions to misread situations throughout their time together. Because they lived on high alert pretty much always, Dean’s survivors brain never switched off and he would perceived threats everywhere even when there were no threats. On this occasion Dean feared the idea of Sam being away out of reach in case he was in danger of physical harm and he saw Sam’s dream of a different life as a threat to their brotherhood. Dean’s shame and feelings of never being as good as his brother made him believe there was no place for him in Sam’s new world. That was not what Sam was saying at all, he just wanted to pick up where he left off with his life outside of hunting, not that he was cutting Dean out of his life, but it was heart-rending that Dean couldn’t comprehend that.
I adored this iteration of Meg Masters, Nicki imbued her with so much malice and threat she was frightening, yet she was so smart, carefully creating a second Meg, the “real” Meg who was so different, so sympathetic yet deeply wounded who was nothing like her possessed self, for her return in season 3 raising of the witnesses. The show has scored success after success with casting of their pivotal characters
I always say I’m going to give that casting agency a fruit basket, and I really should do it now! So wonderful to see how smart the Winchesters were back in the early seasons, and so heartbreaking to see and understand Dean’s shame and insecurity. That scene broke me! I don’t think any other show will ever make me FEEL so much…
It really was a great episode in all the major ways — plot, characterization, dialogue. And I really like the acting by both actresses who played Meg throughout the run of the series.
I’m a newbie fan (I’ve only been watching the show for 14 months) but have now seen virtually every episode at least three times. I wish I could recall when I first began to think about Dean’s persona — meaning his standard macho bravado — and when I first began to view it as the act/front that I believe it is, and why I think that it is.
My view is that it is something he began to adopt very early, probably by age 12, and for two major reasons — John and Sam. I think Dean wanted to persuade them both that he could handle both the horror and the hyper-responsibility of their family hunting lifestyle, even when he couldn’t do so completely and even though it repeatedly traumatized him.
What does everyone else think?
Hi Mazal HaMidbar, it’s complicated. I would say to even try to understand Dean as a character it’s important to seperate bravery from bravado and examine his history.
Dean’s an extremely brave person, the real deal, every time he got knocked down he got back up, from the age of four when he safely carried Sam out of their burning house he showed courage and maturity way beyond his years just trying to deal with the life he was thrust into. A true Hero even though he failed to see it.
Dean was accomplished in firearms, which he showed a gift for, being able to bullseye cans at the age of six, he excelled at hand to hand combat, he was more than competent at bow hunting , knife throwing, the making and improvisation of weapons.Make no mistake Dean was as tough as he acted and he knew it, he was confident in his ability to generally get the better of a hostile opponent so, in the early days especially, he was in his own mind the one with the upper hand in many of the situations they were in, for example Bloody Mary, Hookman.
Because of what happened to Mary, Dean hated monsters and John encouraged that, he admits as much in season 2 when they save Lenore. That hate often fuelled his interactions with monsters cognitive enough for conversation, for example how he talked to Molly on Roadkill about not apologising for not liking things that go bump in the night. Hunting things was an outlet for his loss, pain and rage and some of his snark evolved naturally from that, he justifiably wanted them to know how just much he despised them and their kind. That was bravado, arrogance even.
With regards to the front Dean puts up, the false bravado, I think early on it wasn’t deliberately done, before the fire we see Dean as a bright, happy go lucky little boy, he’s so thrilled to have a little brother whom he clearly already adored and doted on, a father who he worshiped. Dean’s pre fire persona and default was happy, he continued all his life to place value on the smallest things. Making the best out of everything was as much who he was, as being a hunter or Sam’s protector. It wasn’t in him to complain. Post fire Dean swept into action because John was a grieving mess, the baby needed care, someone had to do it. There just wasn’t time for Dean sit about waiting for John to pull himself together, he almost naturally took to the role of carer, because if he didn’t, then his family would fall apart. Dean was the glue that held their family together as best as he could.
This caring role over time skewed his perceptions of his role in the family, he began to see himself as a carer, invested everything in that role. The side effects of that were he began to act more like an adult than a child, making decisions and doing things, witness to things no child should have to witness, do or decide.
John leans into this and takes advantage of the fact Dean was dependable kind and caring to enable him to work and keep the boys safe. Dean liked how that felt, he responded positively to every bit of attention that gained him in the brief times we see them together, it gave young Dean a sense of pride and accomplishment to be able to care for his family. Not in the sense of showing off, more a sense of “I did good today” in his mind that good feeling Dean got from being helpful was as if he was practicing his own form of self care, the reward came for keeping everything going, keeping them all alive was almost addictive to Dean, the people pleaser who craved love and attention that wasn’t always reciprocated. Having Sam look up to him, love him, depend on him was something that in Dean’s subconscious eased the loss of his mother. If he could be good, be brave, Mom would be proud of him, as Dean told himself every day after the fire. It was all a way of filling the void to be able to be able believe he’s doing a good job. That was where Dean started to be less than honest with himself and bought into his own bravado, because to do anything else meant he’d failed Mom. That failure was never an option.
Uncertainty of continuous adult care triggered self reliance in Dean as a child and at times when offered cared he didn’t always respond well. Uncertainty of care in itself was a form of developmental trauma for Dean, making him less receptive to and suspicious of care, very feral. He learned very young adults were not to be trusted ( look at A Very Supernatural Christmas, it’s not just Sam that learns there) It became a driving force in Dean’s adult life which put barriers between him and the help he was in desperate need of. It made Dean pretend things were ok because he couldn’t trust people, any people, to keep their word. The initial lack of continuous reliable care, even if only perceived by Dean, was hugely damaging long term. Even as his closest companion, Sam didn’t get the degree of damage done to Dean on this front. Sam initially perceived Dean’s rejection of care and over protection as Dean not treating him as an adult, when in fact it was almost instinctual, part of Dean’s faulty survival mechanisms.
Dean’s role models were limited to John and the very few trusted people around him and what he saw on TV, who was his best friend outside of Sam. Dean mimicked what he saw and perceived he saw. These role models were unrealistic and tended to encourage Dean to reach for things way beyond his age and ability so eventually Dean the child was squeezed out. No more time for childish things.
John seemed to make no definition between himself and Dean, never seemed to affirm to Dean who was the child and who was the adult and who was responsible for what. We see that with painful clarity in the upcoming episode Something Wicked where he reprimands Dean for not watching his brother when there’s a monster in town and allowed Dean to believe into adulthood that Sam getting attacked was his fault, they never again talk about it. Dean became second in the chain of command but with none of the perks of being adult enough to question a decision. Dean took that lesson to heart, not to talk about the things you mess up on. You just suck it up. So he stays quiet. Asking questions gets you or your brother dead forms as a very concrete idea in his mind to aid survival.
Dean loved Sam and John unconditionally, they were all he had. Living on the road meant no static home, no lasting friendships, he never even questioned he might have a better life without them until he went to Sonny’s Boys Home and by then his transformation as Sam’s protector was completed, he just couldn’t check out on him.
From this point onward though, I believe Dean, having had a taste of what really being age appropriate Dean meant, knowingly and deliberately put up and kept up those barriers to avoid pain, loss and disappointment. If you have no ambition or dreams they can’t be taken. This idea also got reaffirmed for Dean when he attempted to break free and be with Cassie, it didn’t work so boom, up goes that barrier, which Case neatly identified. The false bravado keeps people away, so you don’t get hurt.
Sorry long rambling way of explaining I think it was more than something Dean just decided, it was a slow evolution of many factors, there was so much more I could have included but will stop here, hope it makes sense?
Marion, everything you have written makes sense and is extremely insightful/eloquent. In fact, I believe that you could easily turn this piece into an independent essay that could be posted online on a website of your choice.
The really amazing thing is not only does it make sense in the show, but the show got it so right compared to real life. This is how it happens, for parentified children who experience trauma, and whose resilience allows them to keep going but leaves all these scars. I’m always in awe of our little show.
Ditto Lynn, even on re-watch there so much to dig into, so many levels of discovery to go through. Supernatural has so much to offer to everyone, from new starters to those of us who were there from the early days. It’s always going to have something special that resonates with people, the show seems to somehow find us when we need it most.
Totally agree with marion, but can I also say that it makes me so happy that you discovered this show 14 months ago – I envy you having all those seasons to catch up on and watch!
Marion, your comment was AMAZING, I wish Kripke and Jensen could read it, they would be impressed.
And you’re so right about all this show has to offer. Two of my friends, a married couple I have known since their first date back in the ’80s, used to tease me about my SPN obsession. I kept telling them to just give it a try and watch season 1. The husband kept retorting that I needed to watch Breaking Bad. So about a year ago we made a deal: I’d watch his show if he would watch mine. They watched 2 episodes a night and would text me after most of them: “Why doesn’t Dad show up more often? Is JDM going to be a regular?” When I told them he wasn’t the husband replied “Are you sure?!” LOL
They claimed not to be hooked at the end of season 1, but kept going…by season 3 they were loving it. Got my first message saying, “We can’t believe we are asking this but what are the cons like? We’re starting to get attached to the boys.”
They admitted I was 100% right about the show and have been thanking me ever since. They even feel like sharing the show every night has brought them closer as a family irl too 🙂
BTW, I did NOT fall in love with Breaking Bad. Some good episodes, a couple decent characters, but I never fell in love with it and watched it out of obligation. I just didn’t love spending time with those people…
Hi Shelq, I’m glad you enjoyed my ramble.. I’m thinking we are possibly fellow obsessives. I’ve never been this engaged with any show before.There’s honestly no other show to even touch the layers of complexity Supernatural has.
Full credit goes to Kripke for creating a complex world full of engaging characters, setting in place a strong, robust framework and creating the tone with his choices of cast and crew.
From the scene in the pilot where Dean begs for help I was hooked, this snarky ragamuffin guy in a jacket at least one or two sizes too big, full of attitude and a trunk for of weapons pleading “I can’t do this alone ” with a crack in his voice and the expression of a child. This was not your average TV character, I immediately thought who is he? I saw parallels with deeper, literary characters and instantly needed to know more and it was impossible not to get drawn into his world. That was all pure Jensen and I cannot praise him enough, he brought out aspects of Dean from the start that were not set down on the page, he found the nuances and the writers started to tailor what they did around his actions (like the constantly eating food thing) Jensen laid out such raw emotion and was so honest in his portrayal. In my job, I came into contact with people who were facing or had been through homelessness, isolation and trauma, people whose lives had been shattered and Jensen captured that faithfully, showing every aspect, the raw, ugly, brokenness and the positives of love, hope and courage, Jensen made Dean more than what was written in the scripts, he made us care about Dean.
Ironically, I’d never seen any of Jensen’s work before I started watching SPN, so what a joy it was to catch up!
It’s funny that you mentioned Breaking Bad, it was also recommended to me by a friend and is on my to do list, once I crack the enigma of Sam Winchester, until then, I’ll be holed up in the safety of Winchester World.
Marion, yes, I never thought I could be more obsessed that I was with Buffy (the show) and Angel (the show) but here I am. And I do see where SPN has drawn on some aspects of both those shows, and I do still love them, but SPN came into my life when I most needed it (February 2020), just before the pandemic and my father’s anticipated but still horrible death.
And, yes, Dean is brilliantly written and even more brilliantly acted. I’ve never before seen a show in which childhood trauma is so well explicated (although yet another of my favorites, The Sentinel, does explore this, and fanfic of course has expanded on it).
I think Dean eats so much and so often and so messily simply because he went hungry so often as a child and never knew where his next meal was coming from, so he felt as though he had to eat quickly and a lot whenever he could.
I further think his terrible table manners and poor personal hygiene are for the simplest and saddest of reasons — he simply doesn’t know any better. Yeah, intellectually he does, but not at a gut level to where those become proper habits. He didn’t learn those things when he should have learned them, when they should have been taught to him over and over, and very patiently — a process that developmentally ought to have occurred when he was in the range of 4 to 5 years old. But of course after Mary’s sudden, violent, tragic death, that was the last thing on the mind of John and whoever else was doing what they could to care for him (my own headcanon is Bobby and/or Missouri).
When we don’t learn the things we should at the time we should learn them — table manners/personal hygiene at 4 or 5, or cooking/driving in our teens and twenties — then we usually NEVER do learn them. When Sam was making a practice of going to parties, sit-down properly cooked dinners and so on at his friends’ homes starting at the age of approximately 11, he was NOT doing so in order to “ditch” John and Dean. Sam was doing it, consciously or unconsciously, to study how normative people in normative homes manage to live in a healthy way including social graces. When he went to Stanford University, he learned even more about it, from Jess and his other friends.
Mazal HaMidbar, I’m so sorry to hear if your loss. I’m glad you could find some degree of comfort from the show in your time of need.
Young Sam did have the advantage of a secure base to explore from and broaden his horizons, learn life skills and grow in a more age appropriate way, knowing Dean would take care of things , protect him, cherish him, no matter what. That security enabled Sam to expand his horizons in a way Dean could not, he also had a gauge in Dean to measure his experiences against ( both the good and bad things Dean learned were of benefit to Sam)
I’m certain Dean was uncertain of continuous adult care, this will have impacted on his eating habits, additional to that the Winchesters were very definitely living in the borderline of poverty if you consider the costs of motels, gas, ammunition etc, things will have been tight, Dean described in detail to Tina about his attempts to make what food they have appetising to Sam with things like Fluff Marshmallow Mix as they were eating the same food over an over, we see them with boxes of cereal, all easy preparation convenience food that didn’t exactly require many table manners.
I’d speculate Dean spent a lot of time caring for young Sam and possibly presented as an awkward child, unable to pass for normal, he probably got few invitations to go to other children’s parties or homes, especially with his little brother in tow. Maybe Dean actively didn’t want to go to parties or tea or play at other children’s homes, because of his unprocessed grief, it probably hurt a lot to see other people have Mom’s, so as a result Dean got little social interaction
There was though a dichotomy in Dean, he both wanted and scorned normality, he was both oblivious of and quite deliberate in pushing boundaries of acceptability, maybe he enjoyed being a rogue for the attention it gained him? Dean was very emotionally sensitive and could read people well, If he was being judged (which happened an awful lot) and was deemed an outsider, he would act like it, because he could. At times Dean would figuratively put himself in the box expected of him to keep folks at arms length in a move the said ” sticks and stones will break my bones, but words can never hurt me” which both we the audience and his brother knew to be untrue, but the point was, strangers didn’t know that, like the girl in “After-school Special” who judged him without knowing how he really lived and who he truly was. Being pitied was painful and unacceptable to Dean, so he would be, at least to outward appearances, whatever he was judged to be and revel in it , defiant and unapologetic.These defenses became habitual for him to the point often it probably was ultimately, done at a subconscious level.
Marion, you are so right about Jensen’s portrayal of Dean and what he brought out playing the character so perfectly.
At first I had thought on looks alone that Jared/Sam was more my “type” physically at least (can’t resist really tall guys) but Dean stole my heart.
By the End of Dead in the Water I had become a Dean girl for life!
I do love Sam dearly and have grown to even more over many rewatches–I feel Jared really understands Sam.
But Dean is the one I relate to more than anyone. <3
Ah Shelq, you and I followed the same journey, Jared / Sam had my ideal looks, but the way Jared played him, he felt like my little brother (middle child here🙂) Jared did an awesome job.
After “Dead in the Water” Dean owned the title deed to my heart. No denying.
The joy is we got a twofer, the magic happened with their interactions, Jared’s magnificent work enabled Jensen to do what he did and be that vulnerable.They helped to make each other the best actors they could be by being open and available to each other and supporting each other.
You couldn’t have said it better, SPN sister! They really did complement each other perfectly–and the same way irl too.
I am the oldest of 4, so maybe that’s another reason I latched onto Dean lol
Haha, Shelq I’m also 1 of 4. The more the merrier right?😉
Myself and elder Sister are sandwiched by Brothers.
I strongly identify with Dean the protector as my Sister was always a protective force, for as long as I remember with a four year age gap between the two of us, so I followed her lead. I also identify with Dean’s vulnerability, as my elder Brother has always been vulnerable.