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Posted on 2010.05.16 at 18:39
Current Mood: contemplativecontemplative
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This wasn't the way I expected to start writing again - a 5000 word (more or less) meta on the use of the question "What am I supposed to do?" in SPN canon. I am so far beyond needing to get a life it's not even funny any more. I'm posting this to spn_heavymeta which brings me officially out of lurkage there.


Season 1 – the Pilot, and the first appearance of what would become a stock sentence. In this instance it’s applied to John – Sam queries John’s parenting, and Dean comes back with – “What was he supposed to do?” Presumably at this point the answer would be ‘protect his children’. But their interpretations are different – Dean considers John’s defence of his family from supernatural forces to be protection (dealing with the real world as it is); Sam is more concerned about their emotional welfare, whereby ‘protection’ would be shielding his children from the evil in the world. (His answer here is, “He was supposed to say, ‘Don’t be afraid of the dark’.”)

And so a huge question is raised – should people be exposed to evil, so they are better prepared to defend themselves, or is ignorance protection in itself? Meanwhile, on a more overt level, ‘What am I supposed to do?’ establishes itself as a shorthand for desperation, characters following their best instinct when the world becomes overwhelming.

The sentence shows up again in Dead in the Water (1.03) when Sam implies that Dean’s lack of direct action is endangering the search for John. Dean says ‘So what are we supposed to do?’ and Sam has no clear response (‘I don’t know, something, anything’). Again their instincts are in conflict here – Dean’s instincts, like John’s before him, suggest that going after supernatural forces will lead them to their ultimate goal. Sam has his eye more firmly on the prize, seeing other hunts as a distraction. (And of course, he now has deeper motivation, giving his quest more of a sense of urgency).

The next instance is in Skin (1.06) and this time Sam uses it, and for the first time it becomes the first person singular. “What am I supposed to do?” Sam asks, “just cut everyone out of my life?” Clearly he doesn’t believe he should – when Sam uses this sentence the implication is that this is exactly what he should not do (Dean tends to use it far more as a genuine question, as will be seen). Sam is still holding onto the goal of finishing this job and getting back to a ‘real’ life. Dean says nothing, but his body language shows a clear answer in the affirmative. As far as he is concerned, this is exactly what Sam is supposed to do.

The final instance of the sentence being used in Season 1 comes in Home (1.09) and the context is the need to get the family out of the house, coupled with the knowledge that no cover story is going to persuade a mother to displace her two children on the say-so of a pair of strangers. (Although, as a mother of two, I’d probably have recommended Dean just saying ‘Hey, honey, book a sitter, we’re going out tonight.’ I’d have gone. Sitter or no sitter. *is shallow*). There’s no real subtext this time, it’s a despairing cry for inspiration, and Dean has no answer. Although, interestingly, the next scene opens with Dean refocusing them and advising they treat this like any other hunt. I suppose that is his answer.

So, in season 1, ‘What am I supposed to do?’ implies a character out of his depth, desperation, and Sam and Dean’s conflicting outlooks on life and priorities. Also, at this point, Dean is more likely to be asking this question genuinely, and Sam is more likely to be using it to make a point or emphasise the difficulty of a situation.

SEASON 2:

In which the question begins to take on more specific, plot-related overtones, and the script begins to try and answer it.

The first time anyone asks ‘What am I supposed to do?’ in this season, it’s Andy in Simon Said (2.05). Andy is bewildered and despairing, probably using the question as a rhetorical device, but Dean takes it at face value and advises him to ‘Be good. Or we’ll be back’. Again this emphasises Dean’s world view – he has been Andy’s champion in parts of this episode, but in the final analysis he still sees him as a supernatural being and therefore a potential hunt. Incidentally, Andy is asking this question having just lost his brother, one of Azazel’s special kids, a direct comparison to Dean in AHBL2. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

The mutation begins in Crossroad Blues (2.08) where the first direct answer to the question is put forward. And it’s the Crossroad Demon that comes up with the first answer: “Your Dad’s supposed to be alive. You’re supposed to be dead.” This is the first indication that following their own instincts might conflict with the overall picture of how things are ‘supposed to be’. It’s worth noting, though, that while Sam (Faith) and John (IMToD) acted on instinct to keep Dean alive, Dean’s instincts have so far accorded with the world’s (or at least the demons’) view of how things should be. Towards the end of the episode, Dean alters the question, making it more specific – “How am I supposed to live with that?” The desperation associated with the original question is there in abundance, but now that there is a specific focus, the desperation has become more focussed too. And again, one gets the impression that Dean would welcome an answer.

In Croatoan (2.09) the question is asked by a secondary character, the Sergeant, after Dean refuses point blank to let him kill Sam when everyone, Sam included, is advocating that course of action. Dean knows perfectly well that killing Sam is the sensible thing to do, the only thing to do, and the Sergeant is effectively Dean’s inner voice here. However, the question is put to Dean, we already know he doesn’t take it rhetorically, so he answers in the only way he can. In an act of deep symbolism (the depth only really became clear several seasons later) he gives up the keys to the Impala. (Can I be whimsical here and use the Impala as a metaphor for Dean’s sense of self, his soul? Hell yeah!). He has to choose between his brother and the innocents he has sworn to protect, he chooses neither – he sacrifices himself instead. Is this what Dean is ‘supposed to do’?


The next time it comes up is in Houses of the Holy (2.13) – Dean says in the motel ‘What am I supposed to do – you’ve got me on lockdown here.’ I almost didn’t include this example as it seemed so superficial. But actually, this is one of the first signs of a new development – Dean’s obedience to Sam, as against Sam’s rebellion against Dean’s authority (assisted, I might add, by external circumstance). I’ll come back to this one – around the beginning of Season 3.

So, onwards, to Roadkill (2.16) and this time it’s Molly asking the question. Sam’s answer: “Just...let go of David, of everything.” This, and the next example, show Sam’s and Dean’s original philosophies being turned around – remember back in 1.06 where Sam was dead against cutting everyone out of his life? Now it’s becoming apparent that, sometimes, a clean break is the only path to redemption. Molly is miserable and trapped while she holds on to the family ideal and ignores reality – as soon as she lets go, she is rewarded with (we assume) the ultimate prize.

Meanwhile, in What Is and What Should Never Be (2.20), Dean is confronted with his own family ideal – a life where his mother never died, where his family was left intact and Dad died of natural causes. And he is brought face to face with the eternal dilemma – if he chooses an idyllic life (which interestingly is flawed in any event, but that’s a different meta), the consequences for the world at large are harsh. So, in an Ackles tour de force, he confronts the issue in a graveside speech about how things are supposed to be. “Mom’s not supposed to live her life? Sam’s not supposed to get married?” In his own reality at least, he has the power to change these outcomes, but Dean doesn’t have it in him to choose personal happiness over the greater good. He knows that the answer to the two above questions is ‘No’, and he physically and metaphorically walks away to sacrifice himself once again – the self-sacrifice in this case explicit and literal.

And so to the pivotal episode – All Hell Breaks Loose II (2.22). Allow me to quote:

“And now I guess I’m just supposed to let you down too. How can I? How am I supposed to live with that? What am I supposed to do, Sammy? God. What am I supposed to do? What am I supposed to do?”

So much to say about this. First, the repetition of ‘How am I supposed to live with that?’, last used in the context of John being dead while Dean survived, reinforces the fact that Dean feels his very existence is letting John down. And the repetition. Remember, Dean does not ask this question rhetorically. The first time, he addresses it directly to Sam, but obviously there’s no answer to be had from that source. Note the ‘God’ before the second one. I don’t see this as simply an (ahem) ejaculation, but a genuine plea. Presumably divine inspiration does not manifest itself, because the second repetition is shouted out, addressed to anyone who might be listening. And when he still gets no response, one of two things happens (and in a sense they’re the same thing anyway). Either he just falls back on instinct, or destiny (angels, whatever) takes over. The one thing I don’t see happening is Dean exercising free will. He acts without thinking, following the instinct for self-sacrifice without giving consideration to the greater good. He knows, when he’s thinking straight, that what’s dead should stay dead. He doesn’t know, but we in retrospect do, just how far-reaching the consequences of bringing Sam back were. Destiny, I believe, has brought Dean to the point where he’s incapable of coherent thought, knowing his ‘protect Sammy’ instinct and his own need for his brother will guide his actions. And so the Apocalypse begins.

(Before I leave Season 2, just another point from this episode. When confronted later, Dean tells Bobby, “I was supposed to be dead”, as justification for his actions. Ellen says exactly the same about her absence from the Roadhouse at the critical moment. She, however, attributes it to “dumb luck”. A rather healthier outlook, but one that shows a willingness to accept without question the vagaries of destiny.)

SEASON 3:

The first example of Season 3 is, in a way, one of my favourites, because it’s subtle. It’s in Bad Day at Black Rock (3.03) and it’s played for laughs, when Dean takes Sam to the motel and orders him to stay put. Sam says, “What am I even supposed to do, Dean?” and Dean answers firmly, “Nothing, nothing.”

I’d like to make a direct comparison, if I may, between this incident and the post-Nightshifter lockdown (Houses of the Holy). When Sam locks Dean down, he complains, but he doesn’t even attempt to disobey. In this instance, Dean only gives one specific instruction, ‘Don’t even scratch your nose,’ and that’s the first thing Sam does. Yes, I know, this is comedy and you can look too closely at the details. It just makes for an interesting contrast with HotH. What I find more interesting here is how Sam’s choice is completely removed from him. He resigns himself to following Dean’s instructions and destiny conspires to make absolutely sure he can’t. A small but significant metaphor for Sam’s life from this point on.

A couple of minor uses of the ‘supposed to’ idiom follow. In Sin City (3.04) Casey reminds us that Sam “was supposed to be the Grand Poobah and lead the big army” - reinforcing the destiny v. free will dilemma, pointing out that Sam is actively rejecting his destiny at this point, and emphasising the chaos that can arise as a consequence. Then, in Fresh Blood (3.07) Bela, justifying her own actions in giving Sam and Dean up to Gordon, says “Well, he had a gun on me – what else was I supposed to do?” A very human response, showing that life can be extremely simple if you allow destiny and circumstance to over-ride free will. No moral wrestling for Bela. I do like that Bela becomes one of the select few characters that are given this line, especially given what we find out about her destiny later. She is in the same situation as Dean, but in her case self-preservation is her number one concern. Doesn’t work, though, does it?

In Malleus Maleficarum (3.09) we are given an update on how Dean and Sam view their roles at this point, and an insight into how that is evolving. Dean, shocked at Sam’s willingness to contemplate killing the witches (who are human, and therefore would previously have been untouchable in Sam’s world view), says, “It’s just what you’re supposed to do, OK? We’re supposed to drive in the friggin’ car and friggin’ argue about this stuff.” Dean still seems very much in touch with his Season 1 philosophy here – insofar as he has a destiny, it is the ‘Saving people, hunting things’ credo, and Sam’s role within that is to help Dean interpret the grey areas. Sam has moved on – he seems more in touch with their world as it is now; as far as he is concerned, Dean’s destiny is to go to Hell at the end of the year, and his own role is a) to prevent it, and b) to adapt and survive if he fails.

There is a small but telling example in Mystery Spot (3.11) where, after Dean is shot in the car park, Sam says “I’m supposed to wake up.” He has allowed himself to get lulled into a comfortable, if not entirely happy, destiny – Dean dies, Sam wakes up, everything starts again. Here we see that buying into destiny leads ultimately to disaster, and Sam from this point on takes control.

Finally, No Rest for the Wicked (3.16). Sam asks the question twice – and the difference is heartbreaking. The first time, he asks “So then what are we supposed to do, Dean?” and the ‘supposed to’ here (uniquely) is not asking what destiny requires of them, but how destiny can be fought. Sam, here, is the advocate of free will. Dean, on full ‘protect Sammy’ alert and completely resigned to his fate, answers that “Just because I gotta die doesn’t mean you have to, OK?” Later in the episode, as the clock strikes twelve, Sam says “Then, what am I supposed to do?” (I, not we, now – this time the question is used in the usual way, as a despairing cry). Every time one or other of the boys is dying, or about to die, the other asks this question. And in this instance, Dean has an answer. “Keep fighting. Take care of my wheels. Remember what Dad taught you, and remember what I taught you.” He expects and advises that Sam should continue in his life as a hunter. Let’s come back to this at the end of Season 5.

SEASON 4:

Just a little bit of symmetry to start the season – the first use of ‘supposed to’ links directly to the last use in S3 (Take care of my wheels) – “You were supposed to take care of her, not douche her up”. No massive significance to this, but just an example of nice writing, and I include it for that reason.

In this season, the ideas of destiny as against free will, and what exactly it is the boys are supposed to do, and who is controlling the destiny part of the equation anyway, start to be explored in greater depth. To this end, we begin, in Are You There, God? It’s Me, Dean Winchester (4.02) by an analysis of how the only destiny Dean has really accepted (saving people, hunting things) has failed. First Meg (“You were supposed to help people, Dean. Why didn’t you help me?”) and then Ronald (“You were supposed to help me.”) confront Dean with his inadequacy as a protector. I find the use of the past tense very interesting in this context – he was supposed to help people, but that didn’t (he is supposed to accept) work out. His destiny now could not be more different, although he does not know it yet – far from saving people, he is now ‘supposed’ to help bring about the Apocalypse and then defeat Lucifer, with massive collateral damage. At this stage, though, what is happening is an erosion of Dean’s self-belief and a resetting of the scene.

In It’s the Great Pumpkin, Sam Winchester (4.07) Sam and Dean, currently united as the agents of free will against the angels (controlling and controlled by destiny) begin their attempt to upset the status quo. Sam opens with a touchingly naive statement – “You’re supposed to show mercy”. Castiel (showing himself as a weak link even by engaging in the discussion) argues that they “have no choice”, but Dean is having none of it. Later in the episode, on being taken to task by Uriel for using his demon powers, Sam asks the oft-heard question, “And what was I supposed to do?” adding “The demon would have killed me, and my brother and everyone.” (Note the ‘everyone’ here – Sam is using these powers in the genuine belief that he is protecting the world). Uriel’s response is unequivocal – “You were told not to.” What Sam and Dean are ‘supposed’ to do at this stage is to obey.

Wishful Thinking (4.08). There are two examples in this episode, both from Dean. He asks, “What are we supposed to do, huh? Stop people’s wishes from coming true?” – Sam points out that wishes come with price tags. Later, and now on board with stopping the wish-fulfilment, Dean says, “You’re not supposed to get what you want, not like this. Nobody is.” This seemed so sad, so despondent, when I first heard it, but on reflection it’s full of hope. Dean is saying that happiness, satisfaction, has to be earned and fought for. Go with the flow, choose what appears to be a quick-fix easy option, and the outcome is unlikely to be what you hope for. Another point for free will here.

There’s a gap of several episodes now before the phrase is used again, probably because what they are supposed to do is fairly (on the face of it, anyway) clear cut at this point. This all changes in On the Head of a Pin (4.16) with Alasteir’s shock revelation “It was supposed to be your father.” A double shock for Dean here – John’s determination to exercise free will was stronger than his own, and of course the breaking of the first seal. Which, let’s not forget, came about as a direct consequence of the one time Dean gave himself totally over to destiny – the deal with the Crossroads Demon that landed him in Hell. Dean is forced to do a complete re-evaluation of his position, and the ‘supposed to’ references, from this point, appear in abundance. (During this same episode, Castiel re-states the angels’ position – “We are supposed to be the agents of fate.”)

The phrase appears three times in the next episode, It’s a Terrible Life (4.17). Sam (Wesson) says to Dean, “This isn’t who we’re supposed to be,” and then later, “We’re supposed to be something else.” Both times Dean rejects him on this point, but later he himself says to Zachariah, “This is – it’s just – it’s not who I’m supposed to be.” I think the reference is fairly clear this time and I’m not going to analyse in depth – they are, after all, in an alternate universe and clearly aren’t who they’re supposed to be. The one thing I do take from this is that there is just no point in telling Dean how things are and expecting him to accept it – he has to reach a conclusion for himself, through weight of evidence. It’s something Zachariah never understood about Dean – he saw him as ‘the good son’, the Michael sword, conditioned to obey rather than question. If he had taken the time to understand Dean as the intelligent, reasoning fighter and advocate of free will, the outcome from his point of view could have been a lot different.

Dean puts Sam on lockdown in “The Monster at the End of this Book” (4.18), and I immediately start comparing it to HotH and BDaBR, because Sam says “So what? I’m supposed to just hole up here all night?” Dean says yes, no research, no computer. Sam, of course, immediately makes contact with Chuck, which has to count as research by any standards, but then by this stage it’s pretty well accepted that what they’re ‘supposed to do’ isn’t necessarily the right thing to do, now that their destiny is in the hands of Zachariah and his ilk. A point well enough illustrated by Dean in the same episode, when he says to Castiel, “So what, we’re just supposed to sit around and wait for it [the confrontation with Lilith] to happen?” When Cas agrees that this indeed what they are supposed to do, Dean’s response is something along the lines of “Screw you.” The only difference there being that Sam appears to agree with Dean and then does his own thing anyway, whereas Dean is direct in his disagreement. Which is actually quite a big difference, come to think, given the importance of trust in the next season.

As a coda to this, we see “What am I supposed to do?” old-style, the despairing cry of the bewildered and defeated, when Chuck asks it of Zachariah. Zach has with that breathtakingly casual cruelty removed Chuck’s only perceived option – suicide. (And how like Dean is that – deprived of freedom over his own actions, he would rather die than submit). Zachariah’s answer – “What you always do. Write.”

The final episode of the season – Lucifer Rising (4.22) throws up two more examples. One, to be fair, isn’t really a part of the pattern at all, but a rather delicious character moment for Bobby (“They’re supposed to make you miserable! That’s why they’re family”). Bobby has at no point asked or speculated on what he or anyone else is supposed to do. This, I would say, is because his role is as an enabler in assisting Sam and Dean to exercise free will. He has no interest in the control of destiny. The other one is more pivotal – Dean asking Zachariah, “If I’m supposed to be the one that stops her, how?” Finally, against everything he’s worked for, and with no other options in sight, Dean submits to Zachariah’s control. And is immediately, crushingly, brought down by Zachariah’s gleeful revelation that, actually, Dean’s not supposed to stop anything – that, all the time he has thought he was exercising free will, he’s played right into the angels’ hands. And so Season 4 closes with a victory for destiny.

SEASON 5:

This season makes the whole “What am I supposed to do” question very simple – Dean is supposed to be Michael, Sam is supposed to be Lucifer and the two of them are supposed to meet for a death match at the End of Days. However, the words themselves don’t make an appearance till episode 5. One interesting point to note, however, is Sam’s response to Dean saying he can’t trust him any more – Sympathy for the Devil (5.01) – he says “What can I do?”, a far more proactive turn of phrase which establishes from the outset Sam’s attitude throughout the series.

In Fallen Idols (5.05) we see Dean wrestling with the old question again. “So what am I supposed to do, just let you off the hook?” There’s no real wider context here; this is more in the ‘cry for help’ spirit of Seasons 1 and 2. Dean can’t let go, he feels rejected by Sam and guilty about his own part in events. In fact, Sam lets him off the hook with his answer: “No – you can think whatever you want”, although he does point out that they can’t be a team again if it’s all supposed to be one-way.

Changing Channels (5.08) offers a somewhat grim precursor to the way the balance is shifting. At this point, we think (and Dean definitely thinks) that Sam is the most likely to say the big Yes. During the Japanese game show, Sam turns to Dean and asks “What am I supposed to say?” Dean has no idea; Sam says nothing and suffers the consequences. When it’s Dean’s turn, even though he doesn’t understand the question either, he plays along and is spared. A rather lovely piece of foreshadowing disguised as a bit of fun.

As a lover of symmetry, I adore the example in The Song Remains the Same (5.13) – Young!John saying to Sam, “Your father was supposed to protect you.” How fantastic that the very first example, right back in the Pilot, was Dean asking “What was he supposed to do?” and Sam being critical. Now, here he is, defending his father – to his father – who has just asked the same question in exactly the same spirit of criticism. Oh Sam, how far you’ve come.

As the season draws on, we see Dean begin to bow under the pressure of fighting their destiny, as if becomes increasingly apparent that there’s going to be a bloodbath either way. Deep down, his philosophy of ‘saving people, hunting things’ is still intact, and his despair grows as he realises that fighting what he’s supposed to be isn’t likely to save anyone. In 99 Problems (5.17) he asks outright “Who is supposed to come and save these people? It was supposed to be us.” Sam’s attempt to keep Dean fighting, to appeal to the big brother, falls on deaf ears – partly because Dean, at this point, has no faith in Sam to resist Lucifer and his own destiny long-term, partly because he’s just increasingly overwhelmed with it all and totally out of his depth.

He says it even more explicitly in Point of No Return (5.18) – “I’m tired of fighting who I’m supposed to be.” At this point, it’s all the connotations – despairing cry for help, bewilderment of the overwhelmed character, free will losing the fight against destiny and the angels controlling events, all rolled into one statement of utter defeat – and God knows Dean can hardly be blamed for that. Sam, who knows his brother well, responds by telling him to stop trying to sacrifice himself for one minute – sacrifice being Dean’s default setting – but Dean’s in no fit state to hear it.

Oh, another symmetry moment, as Zachariah pulls exactly the same trick on Adam as he did on Dean at the end of Season 4 – waits until Adam explicitly submits to his will (“I’m supposed to fight the Devil”) before pulling the rug straight out from under him. Beautifully done.

I need to point out here that this is not yet a complete analysis. Some transcripts, particularly of more recent episodes, aren’t yet available – comment on these will have to wait until transcripts come online or I rewatch the episodes. There is, however, one more example, the one that inspired me to write this meta in the first place – the final episode.

Swan Song (5.22). And one of our boys is about to die. Which means that the other one has to ask the question. And he does. “So then,” says Dean, “what am I supposed to do?” And my heart breaks, as we come full circle. I look back to the very first episode, and Sam’s belief that John was supposed to protect his family by giving them normality. Sam’s desire for a safe, normal life, twisted out of all recognition by the horrific experiences he’s undergone in the meantime, is still there – he can’t have it himself now, he knows that, but he wants it for his brother.

The comparison has to be made, too, to Dean’s answer to Sam at the end of Season 3. Dean’s philosophy – saving people, hunting things – was behind the answer he gave Sam (“Keep fighting”). Sam’s inbuilt desire for normality is totally the influence for his answer to Dean (“Find Lisa”). I’d have to say, although they each truly want the other to be happy, they have a very narrow view of happiness and neither seems to have taken on board that they want different things out of life. Just a thought.

So there we have it – the progression of five seasons of Supernatural through the use of a single sentence, or variations thereof. Through adjustment on a personal level, through destiny and despair, the fight to save a soul, free will and control from outside forces, through finally to the struggle not to be completely overtaken by a much greater force, Dean and Sam Winchester have managed, through resisting what they were “supposed to do”, to avert the Apocalypse. Team Free Will wins – but we will have to wait till next season to find out the cost of the victory.

Comments:


phyllis2779
phyllis2779 at 2010-05-16 18:38 (UTC) (Link)
I thought this was a brilliant analysis. It really is a key question and it plays into several layers of the changes through the seasons. Your analysis also gives the best explanation I've seen for why Sam answers that question (What am I supposed to do?) the way he does in Swan Song and why it is the wrong answer for Dean, although given for genuinely right reasons.
I, being poor, have only my dreams.
bistokids at 2010-05-16 20:15 (UTC) (Link)
Thank you - it's been fascinating pulling the different threads of this together. I've been getting all over-excited every time it's come up since the end of S2, and I just hoped and trusted that there would be enough of a pattern to make this worthwhile - which there was! :DD I'm glad especially that my explanation of Sam's answer made sense for you - it really only coalesced for me when I was writing about No Rest for the Wicked, and the comparison suddenly became glaringly obvious.
erivar
erivar at 2010-05-16 20:00 (UTC) (Link)
Very beautiful and spot on. And totally right on all counts. Most glaring is how you pointed out that the brothers advices the other on what to do after they die but how the advice doesn't fit.

I can't wait to see the result next season.
I, being poor, have only my dreams.
bistokids at 2010-05-16 20:19 (UTC) (Link)
I'm really interested in the aspect of the advice they gave each other, because it shows that there is still a lot of ground to cover before they properly understand each other. Which, imo, gives scope for some great development in S6. (Which I can't wait for either, but I'm consoling myself with the thought that the fic between now and then should be awesome!)
Sytaxia
sytaxia at 2010-05-17 00:00 (UTC) (Link)
Fantastic review, and I love the way that you have woven in the way that the question plays on the theme's of John's parenting and both boys' inability to let go of his primary lesson - protecting others. The high point for me, however, was your review of the way that the boys follow each other's instructions. Sam willfully goes against Dean, and Dean follows Sam's instructions: a parallel for Dean's heaven comprised of being a part of something, of family, and Sam's heaven comprised of searching for something else - something that truly reflects the statement of I’d have to say, although they each truly want the other to be happy, they have a very narrow view of happiness and neither seems to have taken on board that they want different things out of life. Just a thought.
I, being poor, have only my dreams.
bistokids at 2010-05-18 16:07 (UTC) (Link)
Thanks. I do love the continuity of the show so much, and how it comes through here: ultimately they may have grown through experience but are still essentially the same. And again, in regard to the instuction part - Sam responds to Dean, and Dean to Sam, the way they both did to John. Fitting, really, that Show begins and ends with the story of Sam going somewhere unreachable and Dean getting left behind.
pandora's curiosity
hold_onhope at 2010-05-17 02:48 (UTC) (Link)
Ooooh, I love this so much. As soon as Dean asked the question in 'Swan Song' I got all excited. I was hoping for a meta like this. I, too, am a lover of symmetry, and I'm fascinated by the way symmetry and role reversal play out in the show. I loved reading this because it just adds more examples of that.

I particularly liked the way that, as per this analysis, Dean was always tied to destiny and Sam was always tied to free will. (Which makes the fact that Sam said yes to Lucifer and Dean ultimately refused Michael particularly ironic.)

Sam's answer to Dean's question - go find that life I always wanted but can never have - makes the finale even more bittersweet. Oh, boys. You always find new ways to break my heart.

And I just want to say that there were a few times while reading this when you quoted one of the boys asking what they're supposed to do, I was thinking, "You're not supposed to do anything! You just do!" :) It just illustrates the struggle of free will versus destiny throughout the entire show.

Aaaand one more thing, because I just keep thinking of responses to this, hahaha. I loved the way you brought up Sam at the end of 'Sympathy for the Devil' asking what he CAN do to earn Dean's trust again - instead of asking what he's supposed to do. He's looking for options, which means he wants to make choices instead of succumbing to any kind of fate. It's the same thing he did at the end of this season. He thought about what he could do to win end the apocalypse, and his answer was to take control away from Lucifer. Take control away from the angels, the forces that are pushing him towards destiny. Taking control was the only way he could exercise free will, and in doing so, he just so happened to redeem all of his past failures. ♥ YAY.

Edited at 2010-05-17 02:50 (UTC)
I, being poor, have only my dreams.
bistokids at 2010-05-18 16:18 (UTC) (Link)
There is somuch symmetry, mirroring, all sorts of fantastic literary devices in Show that it honestly does my head in when the dissatisfied elements of fandom take it out on the writing. Sure, I can find plot holes big enough to dtive an Impala through, but it's the attention to detail that makes it such a worthwhile investment of time.

I'm really glad you enjoyed this meta - it's given me a lot of further food for thought, especially on the subject of Dean's relationship with destiny. Thanks for commenting in such brilliant detail. :)
yourlibrarian
yourlibrarian at 2010-05-18 03:24 (UTC) (Link)
Nifty meta topic!

He resigns himself to following Dean’s instructions and destiny conspires to make absolutely sure he can’t. A small but significant metaphor for Sam’s life from this point on.

Heh, I like that observation. Although I would go a little farther and say that it's only when someone's put something in Sam's head that it begins to manifest itself. Sam might have been anxious about what his visions meant in S1, but hearing what John said really took the legs out from under him in S2. I think that's the first time he feared being evil.

I would quibble about "they have a very narrow view of happiness and neither seems to have taken on board that they want different things out of life" though. While it does seem like a mirror of the S3 finale where Sam wishes for Dean the life he never had, I think that the situations are also somewhat different. Sam has no one specific to go to, and Dean knows that demons will be after Sam, specifically, at the end of S3. In S5, Lisa has been set up for Dean and Sam, thanks to Dream, knows firsthand that a life with her is a deep desire of Dean's. He has no reason to believe, now that the vessel issue is at an end, that anyone will be after Dean to fulfill a role at this point. He also wants for Dean, something he has never had a chance to experience, so that he will hopefully not die a hunter's death the way he did before.

One point of curiosity, you mentioned you were working from transcripts. What was your source for them? Are the ones linked from the Wiki that complete?
I, being poor, have only my dreams.
bistokids at 2010-05-18 16:38 (UTC) (Link)
Last point first: I used Twiz TV, Roadhouse and the Wiki files as my references, and there are significant holes. I'm looking forward to updating as and when. Might even transcribe the odd ep myself, who knows?!

You make a fair point about the differences between the S3 and S5 endings. Actually, that in conjunction with the first point makes me think. What they are wishing for each other does make sense in terms of the situations they find themselves in - but I still think it fails to take into account the basic nature of the other. Sam needed (in Dean's eyes) to keep fighting because (as you rightly point out) he was in danger; but, with his own inner fear of what he might become, and without the steadying presence of his brother, he was fair game for Ruby's line about turning his evil potential into good. Dean needs (as Sam sees it) the chance to build the normal life he has never experienced, but - we are told - every fibre of Dean's being wants to die or find a way to save Sam.

Will stop now, before the comment becomes as long as the original meta! Thank you so much for your intelligent observations, and for giving me loads more to think about.

(I love that Show bears up to this level of analysis! :D )
yourlibrarian
yourlibrarian at 2010-05-18 17:57 (UTC) (Link)
Thanks for the transcript tip! One of my big wish list items for the fandom is having -- if not a database -- at the very least transcripts for all episodes as well as having them in a single file for searchability.

I still think it fails to take into account the basic nature of the other.

Oh yes, definitely this is true or else both of them would have done more along those alternate paths before. There's obviously something in their basic nature that resists it.

However, it strikes me that both Sam and Dean have a lot in common that isn't always acknowledged. For example, as I noted above about Sam seeming to need someone else to put something in his head, supposedly he never considers breaking away from his family, or pursuing his academic interests until his teacher suggests it. Similarly, he is basically a directionless, drunk mess after Dean's death before Ruby gets hold of him and overcomes Dean's restrictions on him only with her insistence. And, of course, she works her way in by making both his desire (to get Dean out) blend together with Dean's instruction to keep fighting (while ignoring what his father and Dean have taught him about demons).

I suspect we will see something of that with Dean, too, assuming that next season they don't instead decide to do a leap ahead, timewise.
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