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Death in Supernatural. And why it's the whole point. 
3rd-Jan-2012 07:26 pm
He's not dead
If you haven't read Darry Jasper's How Supernatural Uses Death So Well (posted on Sciencefiction.com) then I recommend you do so. It's an excellent account of how Supernatural uses death. It also provides a great summing up of the deaths so far on the show.



For a while now I've wanted to rant a little on why characters need to die on Supernatural. Here's my chance! :D

As fans we are often tearing our hair out with the amount of deaths on the show. Especially when they are beloved characters. I've had a few discussions in the past about characters dying, trying to make sense of it all. And I always come back to... but that's the whole point.

It can't be called a "motif" because it's not really that. But, for me, it works in the same way. It's something that's repeated for a meaning. They occur often enough that they can no longer be considered incidental or used just to heighten the drama. Sure, they are often used to end a season or just before the mid season hiatus break but I don't think they kill off characters just to make us angst, weep and tear our hair out. (though yeah, that too!)

I think death and dying has almost become the central theme. Not quite, as I think family (namely, brotherhood) is still at the heart of the show, but death it right up there. As pointed out in the article, the deaths serve to shape the characters of Sam and Dean. Particularly Dean. They act as springboards to actions that create the angst, dilemmas and drama.

The deaths are always about - how will the boys deal with this? What will they do? I really love it. It's brave. It also shows that they make conscious decisions about killing characters off. It's not flippant or ill considered. It's why I want Bobby to have died in the last episode. Not because I want him gone, but because it's in keeping with their central theme. Death does not mean we will not see the character again. It just means we get to see how they boys will react to it.

I get that it's not what all fans want from their show. In fact, I think it's driven many away. For me though the show has always been about the brothers. I LOVE all the other characters that are brought in to support them, but I equally love that they are prepared to off them in order to remain true to the way the show is structured. The series started with the death of Mary. Death has continued to have a very strong presence ever since - to the point of actually being a character. I wouldn't be surprised if the show ends with death (that cliff is calling isn't it?). It may be sad - but it would make sense. (As much as I would love the see them drive off into the sunset or settle down in a house where they have to pick curtains, death would be so much more fitting. After all, it's where their family is).

The article above says it all much better than that but what excites me is that it supports my "that's the whole point" that I've been feeling for a long time.


Oooh Show. You do bring out the thinky. (that's what happens when you go on hiatus and I'm on holiday!).

NOT LONG NOW!! \o/


**removing the preview button is not cool LJ! :( Other things have just changed I've just noticed too. :((( glitch it would seem *phew*
Comments 
3rd-Jan-2012 11:47 am (UTC)
Thank you. I didn't think they were removing it from the posting form also. I knew about the comment one but I saw all sorts of changes I haven't seen before when making this post.

Looks like I'll have to check things out.
xx
3rd-Jan-2012 12:08 pm (UTC)
Heheheh. I feel almost the opposite of you. I think death doesn't mean much on SPN anymore because we all know the characters are just gonna come back anyway. Cas will be back. At the end of S5 we knew Sam would come back. I'm sure Bobby will be back.

I'm not saying it's not a central theme, but sooner or later the boys are just gonna roll their eyes when someone close to them dies because they'll be back in six months anyway.

3rd-Jan-2012 12:50 pm (UTC)
Hee! I think a lot of people thnk opposite to me. :). So far only Sam and dean have been the only ones to really return. (well, bobby after swan song and Adam very briefly). The others have been post death or AU appearances. I don't think they live thinking dead ones will come back to them. We don't know yet how cas or bobby will return. I, personally, don't think cas ever died and bobby....well, who knows? I'll be interested to see how they play that.

If I was them though I think I'd just call it damn quits anyway. They are doomed!! Well, everyone around them anyway. ;)
3rd-Jan-2012 12:16 pm (UTC)
As I said on twitter I haven't had any changes to how things post. The only thing different for me is how my icons appear to select for comments. I checked and my style is an adaptation of the S2 layout Smooth Sailing in case that's any help.

Also - yes great article. And what I'd add is that it is very much a riff on the whole horror genre, where deaths are plentiful and gory too - but have little meaning or impact on the survivors.
3rd-Jan-2012 12:53 pm (UTC)
Hmmmm.... My comments haven't changed at all. Up until this post neither had my posting options, I use smooth sailing also. I'll see what it looks like tomorrow and see if I need to change my settings or something.

And yes yes. A great play on deaths in the horror genre. So much easier if they don't mean anything. Not so for our poor boys.
Xx
3rd-Jan-2012 12:48 pm (UTC)
I think death and dying has almost become the central theme. Not quite, as I think family (namely, brotherhood) is still at the heart of the show, but death it right up there. As pointed out in the article, the deaths serve to shape the characters of Sam and Dean. Particularly Dean.

I think the two are really essentially linked. Because if family is your greatest asset, then death is your greatest fear. Other shows can play the fake out card with death more often because there are so many other things they can take away from their characters - jobs are lost, relationships fail, possessions are damaged - but Sam and Dean don't really have anything but the people they've gathered around them (well, and their car, obviously). Their lives are perilous, and because they only have an essential cast of two, they really get to demonstrate that in ways that a comfortable ensemble cast can't. Even with their two leads they don't hold back that much - I mean, last season Sam was dead for eleven episodes. They found a way to keep his actor employed, sure, but Sam was dead - and you can still see the scars of that on Dean now, who still can't quite believe that Sam won't just fall down and vanish again.
3rd-Jan-2012 09:55 pm (UTC)
Yes, I would definitely say they are linked. I love your reasoning here as to why is death used. There's little else that can be taken away from these boys - they don't have all those traditional "belongings". They are already stripped back. I just wonder how much more they can take. (I think this is what the writers have gone into the season asking).

And yes, the leads don't escape it either. As much as soulless!Sam killed me (still can't rewatch those eps) it was such a clever way of using death. With a show like this they can (and do) take advantage of being able to explore the nature of death and loss.

And yes re Dean. I hadn't really considered the scars left behind by Sam being there but really not (and the whole year without him). I mean, I know it's taken its toll - we are seeing it manifest itself in the current season, but to have everything going on ON TOP OF him thinking Sam could just vanish again.....ack! He's gotta crack soon. (which, I can't even image what that will look like this time around...)

<3
3rd-Jan-2012 02:40 pm (UTC)
Interesting thinky thoughts, I approve!

Death clearly is a central theme to the show, and as you said, it all goes back to Mary's death in episode one. This is setting the tone for the show, and I think is the biggest single event that has shaped the brothers. Psychologically the characters are very congruent in this way. Due to the siblilngs age difference Mary's death had a different effect on Sam and Dean.

Dean experienced the loss consciously, he witnessed the event and has memories of his mother as a real person. It is likely that he spend a lot of time with his Mum over the first few years of his life and formed a secure attachment to her. Therefore he experienced the loss of a primary care-giver, and this shows itself both in his - sometimes irrational - obsession with 'keeping family together' and his reluctance to commit to serious romantic relationships. He fiercely protects those people in his 'family', but he does not want to add new people to this core group because more attachments also means increased risk of losses, and that is the one thing he can not face.

Dean also consciously witnessed (and possibly shared?) his Dad's depression and therefor was more likely to appreciate the positive effects of 'hunting' (better to obsessively devote yourself to a lost cause rather than to submit yourself to drunken depression). Given his previous secure attachment to his mother he likely transferred this to his Dad, which meant copying his coping strategies, taking on his convictions and vying for his Dad's approval - which was probably hard to come by. Due to his abandonment issues opposing Dad or opting out of hunting never was an option for Dean.

Psychologically speaking, Sam on the other hand did not experience the loss but rather is a motherless child, he does not have any memories of his mother as a real person and did not experience her death consciously. Therefore the event mainly shaped him by the way it affected his father and brother. After Mary's death Dean became Sam's primary care giver, but given Dean's age, his own emotional issues and the slightly chaotic homelife (social services, anybody?) Sam's attachement to Dean is likely to be more conflictual and ambivalent. While Dean and his Dad shared memories of both Mary and a 'life before' Sam likely had a sense of exclusion and being an outsider in his own family . At least unconsciously Sam has felt guilty for 'causing' his mother's death, and it is more than likely that at times he felt (whether real or imagined) blamed by his brother and father. Feeling 'different', 'wrong' or 'bad' has been a recurring theme for Sam. He is also the one who 'walks away', partly because he does feel a sense of not-belonging and not sharing history when it comes to the 'family business' and - possibly - also because he wants confirmation that he will be missed and that Dean will try to get him back. However, given that Dean is his attachment figure, it is also possible that his walking away is just 'normal' teenage rebellion and part of his individuation process. In terms of romantic relationships Sam appears more open - but in the long-run probably also more needy) than Dean. He seems to be looking for that close, secure emotional bond that he has lost out on in childhood and is prepared to throw himself into relationships quite quickly. After he experiences a significant loss he withdraws for some time but when he's ready to open up again he will do so fully... In direct opposition to Dean's opus moderandi Sam seems much keener to expand his universe and add more people to the core group to make (likely) future losses more bearable.

3rd-Jan-2012 02:46 pm (UTC)
(OMG - too many words for one post - clearly not good....)
Due to those differences how they experienced their mothers death, Sam & Dean's responses to further bereavement are different, too. To Dean, each further loss is likely to lead to an (emotional) re-experiencing of the original trauma to which he responds to with withdrawal, depression and emotional cut off. Sam, however, like with his mother's death he strongly responds to how the loss affects Dean, and it also (depending on circumstances) rekindles his feelings of guilt and being 'bad' and 'different'.

In conclusion: oh boys, how so screwed up?!But also yay for rich material for psychological autopsy...

Edit: Oh my god, I totally spammed your journal... this is totally not how I intended to spend my last day off work. -- Sorry?
3rd-Jan-2012 11:11 pm (UTC)
Wow.. this is awesome. I couldn't even begin to get my head around how death has effected the boys, just that it had. That just seemed far too hard, but you have summed it up so perfectly here. Can I just say yes, YES. There is a mass of information and discussion to be had around how death has effected the boys differently. Down to how each react to every new death. Shaped, as you explain here, by that very first death.

Fabulous stuff. :D

Thanks so much for this. Great thinky thoughts! (and NEVER apologise *g* I love this stuff).

xx


(Deleted comment)
3rd-Jan-2012 10:39 pm (UTC)
Sorry to butt my head in, but I keep seeing people using this WIld Bunch reference to point to the fact that the writers are hinting at killing the Boys off in the finale, and I feel like it's a little misinformed. Actually, two of the four main characters (Deke and Sykes) are alive at the end of The Wild Bunch, and go on to join the Mexican Revolution. And when Jared and Jensen were asked to think about that film, it's more likely that Sera or whomever suggested it, meant for them to focus on the thematic aspects of it, namely that of the end of the outlaw era, the struggle for survival in times of rapid change as well as the theme of betrayal and the cowboy honor code.

The film deals with a group of aging outlaws faced with the modernization of the west and the anachronisms of their own way of life. They're forced to rethink old ways of doing things, much the same way Sam and Dean are being forced to rethink their ways of hunting with the Leviathans, and challenged by the fact that much of what's meaningful to them is now lost.

Part of my desire to rationalize why I don't think the boys will/need to die in the end is selfish though, I'll admit. It makes it a hell of a lot easier to go on writing fanfic if the characters you write aren't dead in canon!



Edited at 2012-01-03 10:41 pm (UTC)
3rd-Jan-2012 11:33 pm (UTC)
Yeah, I haven't felt like the deaths are ho hum. They still land an emotional punch. I thought they handled Bobby's particularly well. Cas' seemed brief in comparison (which is why I don't think he actually died) but we are seeing the toll it has taken on Dean so it's very relevant.

I'm curious to see what chain of events Bobby's death with trigger.

xx
3rd-Jan-2012 04:06 pm (UTC)
Alas, stupid work has blocked the Jasper link, but I’ll get to that later. I’ll bow to the brilliance of your post right now.

I wholeheartedly agree with pretty much everything you’ve said here, but this right here? Purely brilliant:

the show has always been about the brothers. I LOVE all the other characters that are brought in to support them, but I equally love that they are prepared to off them in order to remain true to the way the show is structured. The series started with the death of Mary. Death has continued to have a very strong presence ever since - to the point of actually being a character. I wouldn't be surprised if the show ends with death

I, too, watch SPN for Sam and Dean, not for Cas or Bobby or any of the other supporting characters, no matter how much I may like them. Like you, I don’t believe that Castiel is truly gone. But even if he is, SPN will survive. I don’t want Bobby to be dead, but the more I think upon it, the more I believe that he’s gone. And Show will survive. I’m not about to stop watching, and, to be totally honest, am rather confused by those who have.

death would be so much more fitting. After all, it's where their family is

And so, the light goes on. I’d never considered this theory before, but you’re right. No matter how unhappy I’d be, this is how Show should end. It’s really the only way.


Edited at 2012-01-03 04:06 pm (UTC)
4th-Jan-2012 09:19 am (UTC)
Thanks hun. :) The article if great if you get a chance to read it. And interesting look at how important death is in the show.

Yeah, I've never been one to get annoyed when they kill off a character. I figure it's part of the universe they inhabit and we often see them again. I mean, I'm sad for the loss. I really wish Ellen and Jo were still around and Pamela. And Andy and ash... :) hee! So many awesome characters.

And I figure if they die, at least they should have some peace. They've earned their rest. ;)

xx
3rd-Jan-2012 04:18 pm (UTC)
Maybe show has killed so many and they just can't stop?...lol. sorry. My brain is kinda offline. I should take a nap rather than read posts. ;)

Sometimes I do find it hard to deal with all the deaths in show but then again I'm happy for the new characters that appear. However, watching Cas and Bobby go is a bit too close to my heart but I have to admit it created fantastic episodes.

Your posting preview button is gone? Mine is still there. Strange... Maybe they ruin one journal after the other rather than all at once?...
I really need a nap. :P *hugs- and is offline* zzzzzzzzz
4th-Jan-2012 10:44 am (UTC)
Maybe show has killed so many and they just can't stop?

You know, I did consider that. I'm not sure they went into the series saying - we will keep killing everyone to really test our characters. After the first half dozen they may have realised it's getting ridiculous so instead of stopping they kept adding to the toll... :)

And yes. The deaths are hard sometimes. I found Ellen and Jo particularly hard. I haven't found Bobby's hard (yet!) because I think we'll be seeing him again fairly soon. But I'm worried about the toll it may take on the boys.

My problem seems to have been a glitch. I just hope it's not what they are intending for the future changes.

*hugs* I'm about to hit the sack now too.
xx
3rd-Jan-2012 09:42 pm (UTC)
I feel the same way! The entire series is based on death, the ultimate catalyst for change. Death has been personalized, then personified, and now it's philosophized. "I have become Meta, destroyer of...everything."
4th-Jan-2012 11:00 am (UTC)
Death has been personalized, then personified, and now it's philosophized.

\o/ Indeed!

"I have become Meta, destroyer of...everything."

Hee.:D Which makes me think "I have become Death, destroyer of... Winchesters". Only not because they getting back up...

xx
3rd-Jan-2012 11:12 pm (UTC)
Great article! Thanks for the link! I have always really appreciated how much weight is given to the Death of recurring characters on the show, how no one is ever forgotten, and how the boys carry those deaths with them everywhere. I think going easy on the boys, and allowing them to have a reliable support system would be disingenuous to the parallels their hunting lives have with the lives of real soldiers fighting wars. None of this should be easy. War is brutal and sometimes it doesn't let up until all your friends are gone. That's the painful reality.

But if Death is a character, then Life must be as well. And that's what the Boys are left to struggle with this season, being alive. Surviving, when death seems like the easier option. As much as the show plays with the pull between good and evil and everything in between, it plays with the pull between death and life and everything in between too. And I LOVE that!
4th-Jan-2012 11:14 am (UTC)
It was insightful wasn't it?

And thank you. You make some great points here. They are soldiers, fighting a massively huge battle between between good and evil, heaven and hell and a personal battle with love and family and along the way they are copping the losses as any solider would. And yes.... it doesn't let up.

I love the notion that Life could also be a character. It would be very interesting (I think) if they were confront with that notion. As in, if Dean (as I imagine he might be the one to consider this) contemplate ending it all as an easy out and having to be reminded that Life is as strong a force as Death. Hopefully even stronger, which would be the thing that gets him through.

Hmmm... I'm looking forward to seeing where they go from here.

Thanks for the interesting thoughts.
xx

5th-Jan-2012 12:40 am (UTC)
I like your habit of making well-reasoned arguments to defend the show! They are so much more fun to read than well-reasoned arguments saying how bad it is!

I completely agree with what you say and would go even further and say that learning to deal with death in an accepting manner is, if not the whole point of life, then at least a major aspect of living (though I wouldn't say it on my own LJ at the moment since one of my friends' husbands is in the late stages of brain cancer).

I read a lot of posts after 7x10 that said if Bobby died, there would be no point in Sam and Dean continuing to fight because they had no friends or family left to fight for, and I thought that was a bad way to look at life. If you live long enough and have no children, you probably will find yourself in that situation!

For me though the show has always been about the brothers. I LOVE all the other characters that are brought in to support them, but I equally love that they are prepared to off them in order to remain true to the way the show is structured. The series started with the death of Mary. Death has continued to have a very strong presence ever since - to the point of actually being a character. I wouldn't be surprised if the show ends with death (that cliff is calling isn't it?). It may be sad - but it would make sense. (As much as I would love the see them drive off into the sunset or settle down in a house where they have to pick curtains, death would be so much more fitting. After all, it's where their family is).

Very well expressed!
28th-Jan-2012 11:47 pm (UTC)
Arghh.. I just noticed I didn't respond to this. /o\

I think I have much more fun looking for the "good" in the show rather than the bad. I know that there is probably plenty we could pull apart and rant about but that defeats the purpose of enjoying the show. When I start to do that I figure I won't be enjoying the show as I do now (I hope that doesn't happen).

And yes. In our lives we have to deal with death - not quite to the scale of Sam and dean luckily - but it still serves as a way of looking at these characters and watching how they deal.

And really? Someone said they'd have no reason to keep on living? What about for each other? I imagine they would always find a reason to keep going. Dean did after Sam went to hell (and that would have to have been worse that him just dying. Dean knew exactly what he would be suffering down there) so if he can do that then, I imagine he could do that now.

I suppose we have yet to see how well they do handle Bobby's death. I think it will takes its toll. Maybe.

Xx
28th-Jan-2012 07:50 pm (UTC)
I completely agree.
28th-Jan-2012 11:48 pm (UTC)
Thank you.

Xx
28th-Jan-2012 08:10 pm (UTC)
Congrats! Our team has recced you here at crack_impala.
28th-Jan-2012 11:35 pm (UTC)
Wow. Thanks. :DDD
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