Because this is the only way we’re getting hugs this season apparently.
For the purposes of this article, I’m focusing on Dean’s state of mind and how he got to 9.01 I think I’m going to Like it Here, and possibly made the biggest mistake of his life – tricking Sam into accepting the possession of an angel (except it wasn’t a total unforgivable mistake, IMO, since if he hadn’t, Sammy would be dead.) So it’s this crazy mix up of emotions and the worst possible circumstances that took most of Season 8 to arrive at. Also – I LOVE SAM. Everything about him. Just sayin.
What follows is a bit long. The TL;DR version is thus: My feels: Dean believed Sam wanted to live since Sam says so throughout Season 8(GR8) – I found numerous references (all spread out below) to Sam’s desires to make it through all this and have a normal life, so Dean made the best decision he could, under unexpected circumstances that were beyond bad, based on what he thought Sam wanted. Now you can skip to the wrap up at the end…
First off – we’ve got the Prime Directive. Save Sam. John Winchester made that his last words to Dean, followed by, if you can’t save Sam, you’ll have to kill him. But the saving part comes first. Yep, it’s true that Dean has a bit of a parent complex going on here. He can’t be blamed so much for that, since he all but raised his younger brother in the absence of their parents. In 8.21 The Great Escapist, where Sam is a touch delirious and starts recalling moments from their childhood, he makes a revelation that says volumes about Dean and just how good he was taking on the role of parent when he’s only 4 years older. It was just a few words, Sam remembers ‘…You used to read to me when we were little.’ That struck me as a monumental and telling insight into who Dean is and where he always come from.
Throughout Season 8, Sam makes it clear to Dean that he wants to live and someday have a normal life. He’s hopeful that he can have that life, and indeed, Dean wants him to have that life too, which is why he wanted to take on the trials himself instead of Sam. Dean’s plan is to help give Sam the opportunity for some normalcy by closing the Gates of Hell. No more demons = more safety for Sam. He can get out of the life, or be a Man of Letters. Dean understands the risk and the certainty he feels that the trials will end in his death, and he’s okay with that. They’ve been down that road before and he means to keep Sam from being the one to take it the teeth. Prime Directive fulfilled.
When Dean failed to kill the Hell Hound and Sam takes on the trials, Dean’s sense of dread is so great, he continually asks Sam about taking them on instead, to the point it makes Sam think that Dean doesn’t believe in him. I don’t think this was really what Dean meant, but letting Sam do the trials instead butts right up against the Prime Directive. “If there’s a chance I can save him, I’m going to do it” is something Dean has said a lot. Looking out for Sam is part of who Dean is. It doesn’t mean that he doesn’t believe in Sam, or think he’s incapable, it just means Dean will always be there to back Sam up. He’s been programmed to look out for him his whole life and expecting him to stop doing that during something as arduous as the trials is an unreasonable expectation.
In Man’s Best Friend with Benefits 8.15 after Sam gets annoyed by Dean’s apparent lack of faith in him. Dean explains his fear that if they get too far down the road and Sam can’t handle it, they’ll both fail, but in the end Dean tells him that if Sam is good to go, then he’s with him 100%. Right about then, Sam starts coughing up blood, but he tells Dean that he’s okay anyway.
Remember the Titans 8.16 gives us the first real hint that all is not well and getting worse for Sam and he admits to being afraid that he’s wrong that he’ll be able to will himself to get through the trials. You know it’s bad when Dean starts praying. He knows Sam is hurt, even though Sam hasn’t admitted to it and is actively hiding the state he’s in. Cas doesn’t answer. The fear that Dean won’t be able to save his brother mounts.
Goodbye Stranger, 8.17 reminds us of Sam’s desire to live. Meg gets why he stayed with Amelia. Sam wants that long normal life. While this is going on, Dean is getting the crap beat out of him by his best friend, Cas, who then all but says I don’t trust you, I’ve got to protect the Angel Tablet from you and takes off. Sam’s lying to him and Cas doesn’t trust him. Let’s just pile on, shall we? Sam comes clean, at least, and promises to be honest. Dean quotes Lord of the Rings. The Rudy Hobbit always gets a pass. Bottom line – he will carry Sam if he has to, and then in fact, he does. It doesn’t mean he thinks Sam is weak or incapable, but might just need some backup.
Freaks and Geeks 8.18 with the kid hunters and their twisted mentor, there’s another ‘Sam wants to live through this’ moment when Dean talks about ‘if we shut that hell hole, they’ll [kid hunters] have a chance for a normal life.’ It’s easy to miss Sam saying ‘Maybe they won’t be the only ones’ as he climbs in the Impala, but it’s there.
And then we come to Taxi Drive, 8.19 when the lengths Dean will go to for Sam are set out in excruciating and heartbreaking detail, if selling his soul and going to hell for him wasn’t enough. Sam has to go to hell to save Bobby’s soul. Dean is justifiably worried that it could be near impossible for Sam to pull this off, because, after all, it’s hell. Sam’s been there before and he didn’t come out of it too well off. It’s also Bobby, and Dean doesn’t want to risk anything getting in the way of getting him out. Sam is still weak from the first trial. Dean wants to go in as back up, but Sam shuts him down, a little angry that it seems like Dean still doesn’t trust him to do the job. Turns out that big brother was right. Things go wrong and the way out of Purgatory gets stabbed in the back by Crowley. Dean figures out a way around this problem. That’s what Dean does. He finds a way to make it work. The scene of him killing Benny is almost too difficult to watch. It reinforces the Prime Directive in an incredibly dramatic, forceful and poignant way. Dean will go to just about any lengths to save Sam. It’s hardwired into the guy. I’m pretty sure he can’t help it.
Pac Man Fever, 8.20 reminds Dean that even in his weakened condition, Sam is also willing to go to whatever lengths are necessary to save Dean. Sam protects he and Charlie from the Djinn while they are in Charlie’s Tron dreamland. Throughout this episode Charlie reminds Dean that the Winchesters can do anything if they work together, and it’s this episode where I believe Dean gets fully on board with Sam getting through the last trial. Side note: It’s interesting that Dean rarely tells anyone that he loves them. I remember him saying those words to his mother, but I can’t recall where or when he ever says it to anyone else. I found it telling that right after Charlie tells Dean that she loves him (which he responded to with the Charlie/Han Solo ‘I know’) he all but charges back into the bunker, grabs his brother up and holds on, and then to let Sammy know that he’s truly with him all the way, ‘Let’s go get our Prophet’.
The Great Escapist 8.21 was all about Sam’s steady deterioration and Dean trying to do everything he can to keep him going, including feeding him by hand if necessary. Dean is there to pick Sam up off the floor and get him into a tub of ice before he burns up. The question of Sam’s survival is brought up again, going through the third and final trial, Dean asking, you’ll stop coughing up a lung and get better, right? Sam feels better. They’ve got a direction to go in. Dean is reassured.
Clip Show 8.22, Cas is with them in the bunker and Dean barely wants anything to do with him. Dean chews him out pretty good over his recent failings, but particularly not trusting Dean with the tablet. This is part of the whole conundrum. Cas not trusting Dean was a punch in the gut for him and then Cas taking off again, set them up for everything that followed. Truth be told, none of them do well on their own. It’s only when they all work together that they get the big stuff done. But Cas leaves and Dean is rapidly running out of maneuvering room, and eventually time runs out leaving him completely alone. Before that though, Crowley runs them through the gamut of having to face resaving all those people they already saved once before with the ultimatum to give up the trials. Here is where Dean comes through again. After the death of Sarah, a woman he once cared for (reinforcing the ever-present theme that women who even just like Sam Winchester are not going to live through it), Sam is doubtful they can go on. Dean is certain they can figure out something. They can get through it and get the job done. Except for one little problem – the Prime Directive.
Sacrifice 8.23, might be the best of any Supernatural episode, with the possible exception to the Season 5 finale, Swan Song. Sam and Dean tricking Crowley is just brilliant and their success in capturing him puts Sam back on track believing that they will win, but then, there’s the discussion about Sam’s required confession that sets him back. Ruby, killing Lilith, letting Lucifer out – we know the list goes on, but Dean is right there to make Sam look at these things. It’s a confession. It has to come from a place of honesty or the trial won’t work, so Dean is being brutally honest in this direct reminder of things that Sam has screwed up in the past. And then Sam overhears Dean talking to Cas about needing a chaperone. Again, it’s the truth, but not in the way Sam sees it. Dean has always been Sam’s backup for the big jobs from putting Lucifer in the box to the trials. It wasn’t a case of Dean not believing Sam could do it, but knowing Sam might just need someone standing behind him to get the job done. Just in case. It was the same with Lucifer. In Swan Song, Dean was all in, knowing full well that his brother was going to die and he went along with it. If he hadn’t been there at the end, getting beaten nearly to death, refusing to give up on Sam, his brother never would have been able to overpower Lucifer. If Dean hadn’t been there to put Sam in a tub of ice water, Sam wouldn’t have gotten to the third trial. If Dean hadn’t pushed through after Sarah’s death, Sam might (or would?) have given up. In 8.23, Dean leaves Sam because he believes his brother when he says, I’ve got this. I don’t think he would have gone with Cas if he didn’t. Follow all this with the big, unexpected reveal that Sam is going to die, no ifs about it, and the Prime Directive kicks into high gear. We get Sam’s tearful confession that he thinks Dean doesn’t believe in him, that he doesn’t need him, that his brother doesn’t trust him and Dean’s equally heart wrenching response that no, that’s not the case at all. In the end, Sam believes Dean. In the end, Sam turns from death, chooses life over dying, chooses to stay with his brother, who does in fact need him.
Bringing us to the first episode of Season 9 (Season Fine, I see it called here and there, and I agree 100%) Dean is alone and Sam is all but dead. After all that struggle and strife, he is not going to make it. Cas is gone. In an act of desperation, still believing that Sam wants to live, Dean puts out the all call for anyone to help him. It was a complete utter shock to him to discover Sam talking to Death, accepting that he was going to die, that (Me – screaming WHAT THE HELL, SAM, at the TV didn’t help any) it was time and he’d go as long as he could never be brought back. This was a 180˚ turn around from numerous conversations and even their last words together. Dean asked Sam to let them figure it out together and Sam agreed and stopped the trials. Dean isn’t prepared at all for Sam to die. Not the way he was prepared for Sam to die going into the pit inSwan Song, Season 5. He has helped Sam die even by helping him succeed.
So my contention is that Dean does what Sam wants, or at the very least what he thinks Sam wants, and Dean thought Sam wanted to live. He believed that Zeke was one of the good guys, and so let the angel in, tricked Sam and all the rest followed. The mistake was not telling Sam before the Angel got in him that this was the plan. But Dean couldn’t talk to Sam. Gadreel used Dean’s thoughts to determine what should be said to Sam in order to get what he wanted, which was a safer, stronger vessel to hide out in. (or we don’t know exactly what Gadreel was thinking in taking Sam and might never find out).
Now the question is, will Sam find a way to forgive Dean, understand why it happened the way it did, and move on to the job(s) at hand believing in himself and his brother?
Onward…some more rambling thoughts about I don’t know what.
Feel free to comment below, agree, disagree. I’d love to hear from you, the SPNFamily.