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I Need a Hero: Missing Dean Winchester 
6th-Nov-2014 10:44 pm
Purgatory curious!face Dean
As there is no episode this week I thought I'd post some thinky of one of my all time favourite TV characters - Dean Winchester.

I was replying to a comment on my last reaction post and I typed (about Dean) "He was once a hero to me, I just don't see that Dean any more. Sadly".

It really made me stop and consider what that actually meant. How could Dean not be a hero to me anymore? He's always held that place in my heart. My LJ profile has forever stated "I'm a Sam!girl, but not without my hero Dean".

What changed? When did I stop seeing a hero? I decided to write this down to make some sense of it.

This isn't about Dean "bashing" (seriously? How could I ever "bash" a character who has been dear to my heart since the show began?). This isn't about loving one brother over the other, or thinking one is in any way better than the other. At all!

This is actually about trying to piece together Dean's journey and find out when he went from being my hero to someone I don't recognise that quality in any more.

Before I start I will say that I fully understand that Dean's heroism isn't why everybody loves Dean. We all have different aspects of a character that we love. For me, his heroism is an aspect of his character that I have always loved and admired and the thing that I find I am really missing now.

I'm going to put aside quibbles about the writers not getting the characters "right" any more, or thoughts of character assignation. I'll even put aside thoughts that the characters I once knew just "wouldn't do that!" and take what we've been given at face value. I could say that Dean (and Sam) aren't characters I recognise anymore. And actually that's true. They have changed and as much as I'd love to see the Sam and Dean we started out with, the fact is these characters are older and have been through SO much it makes sense that they have changed. It also makes sense that they might not have changed for the better. Sadly.

I fell in love with Dean for many reasons. Initially it was his drop dead gorgeousness and cocky smile. Then it was his snarky-ness and carefree attitude. It was his brazen contempt for the law and superiority over "idiots" who didn't know what they were getting into when facing the supernatural. It grew even deeper when his love and protectiveness for Sam became really obvious. And deeper still when seeing his loyalty, his love for family, his commitment and dedication.

And on top of all that it was the way he embodied the modern day hero. We discovered in episode 1.02 (Wendigo), what drove Dean - helping people out. "Saving people", being the first of his life's motto. During season one we really saw that motto being played out. In Dead in the Water (1.03) he connected with a child (Lucas) that he could share a childhood memory with and then later risked his life to save that child from drowning.

As the seasons progressed we not only saw many acts of saving people but we began to see a multi-layered character who wasn't quite has cocky as we first thought. In Home (1.09) he let his guard down and his vulnerability came to the surface. We learned about his father issues, his low self esteem, his initial inability to see the "grey" in the "black and white" he'd been taught to see in monsters and his overwhelming need to protect his younger brother.

By the end of Season 2 we got to see the lengths he'd actually go to save Sam. He sold his soul and started a new journey toward valuing his life and facing eternity in Hell.

At this point Dean was still very much my hero. Dean had proved his willingness to face an eternity of misery and suffering so his brother could live (whether it was a good move or totally selfless is a point for another essay. And one I'd love to explore further one day).

During seasons 4-5 the dynamic of both Sam and Dean changed quite dramatically. Dean returned from Hell suffering PTSD and Sam was in a very dark place. However, they still continued to fight the good fight - not only with their own personal demons but with angels and demons being introduced to broaden their epic battles. During these seasons Dean became even more heroic to me as he fought for the human race. He was not only confronted with a brother who had turned down a dark path he seemed destined to take, he was battling Hell memories, dick angels, manipulating demons and his own sense of self worth. It all came to a head when he had to finally trust his brother to resolve the potential apocalypse that both of them were responsible for starting. One of his most heroic acts was standing by lucifer!possessed Sam as he beat him, but told his brother "I'm here for you".

There were a couple of moments in season 6 where Dean's shiny heroism started to dim. Both moments made a lot of sense in Dean's journey and were given context, but they were both moments that started to raise questions about Dean's compassion and ethics. First he beat the crap out of Sam when he discovered Sam didn't have a soul (You Can't Handle the Truth) and then he asked Castiel to wipe Lisa and Ben's memories of him in Let it Bleed. I remember watching Dean beat Sam and I am (now) ashamed to say that at the time I was almost cheering him along. I was as frustrated and pissed off with soulless!Sam as Dean was so I understood where that motivation came from. Looking back, I can see how horrible that was, particularly as Sam had no control over the fact that he didn't have a soul and was as scared and messed up as Dean was. It was brutal and showed the depths of Dean's anger and lack of trust in "this" Sam.

Wiping Lisa and Ben's memory was highly problematic and we started to see Dean elevate himself above others and their choices. We can see what Dean was doing in context and understand that he was saw this as protecting them. He almost got them killed and he thought erasing him from their memories was going to help them. On the surface it looked heroic - removing two extremely important people from his life (and him from theirs) for their own sake, but in terms of an ethical (and actually nonsensical) stand point it was neither heroic nor morally sound. At the time it could be seen as a "slip up" but as this issues emerges in later seasons it can be seen as part of his fallibility.

In Season 7 hero Dean was back Defending His Life and letting Sam know he can be his brother's "stone number one". No sooner is Dean seeming to find his heroic feet when he decides to kill Sam's monster friend, Amy, in The Girl Next Door (7.03). He not only did this after reassuring Sam that he supported him, but he kill her in front of Amy's son and left him just standing there. It was a blatantly cruel act and made me wonder what had Dean learned all those episodes ago when he understood "shades of grey". We can perhaps understand why he did it - he couldn't trust Sam so he had to make the hard decision and kill the monster because that's what they do, but it just seemed particularly callous, especially after working hard to get Sam to trust him during a time when Sam's brain was messing with him.

During the rest of the season though, Dean was still fighting the good fight against the Leviathans, and he still held the place of my hero.

Season 8 and 9 were the big turning points for me and it's only really taken me until right now to actually admit out loud (even to myself), that Dean is no longer the hero I once saw him as. I could say that it's merely Carver's "take" on him or that I'm not "seeing" him as I should (wrongly interpreting him etc.) but with the accumulation of the things he's done and said I'd say that what we are seeing Dean's heroism stripped away. I would like to think this is deliberate and part of his character journey - part of seeing what happens when a hero like Dean suffers as much as he has. If it isn't it would be pretty devastating. If this is a "new" version of Dean, then he may well be lost to me for the remainder of the series.

As with past Dean "problematic" moments I can see that they (mostly) have reasons and context. Dean chewed Sam out for not looking for him and, more importantly, ignoring Kevin during Dean's stint in Purgatory during We Need to Talk About Kevin (8.01). It makes sense - he was bitter and feeling hurt and responded accordingly. It's understandable, but the introduction of "bitterness" to his character is a layer that I didn't (and don't) find particularly endearing. I connected with purgatory!Dean and loved seeing his struggle with that darker side of himself. The introduction of "best buddy" vampire Benny was another fascinating layer. I loved his connection to a monster and after my initial unease with Dean's sense of disappointment with Sam I was starting to feel the love again. Then he did something that, to this day, I struggle with. It put a major black mark on his character and even in the given context - (save Benny) - I find it hard to look past. He used Sam's history with women (them dying) to trick him in leaving the hunt. It was manipulative and cruel. It then brought about the uneasy "resolution" to part one of Season 8 - the boys back together in a not so happy truce (and believe me, there's plenty that troubled me with Sam but as this is all about Dean, I'm focussing just on him).

By the second half of S8 I was able to almost forget the bitterness, jealousies and consequent meanness that started to appear and saw Dean back to fighting the good fight. The discovery of the bunker brought new life to Dean and his returning focus to looking out for Sam helped the love return. And as much as many don't like Dean in "care taker" mode, it's one of his qualities that I consider one of the most admirable in Dean (That is, of course, when he cares about Sam's welfare. Cares about his health - both mental and physical. And not just wanting Sam alive or feels that he has to call all the shots on what's "right" for Sam. That's very different - and thinky for another time).

After Dean listing all the things that Sam could repent for in Sacrifice (8.23) I was back to feeling let down and genuinely sad that it's come to this between them. Sure, Dean will tell Sam that there's "nothing I'll put in front of you", but that doesn't mean he'll hide what he really thinks of him at times - particularly when he's disappointed or even hurt by Sam. Again, in terms of character context, it makes sense. It's totally understandable that he was hurt by Sam "losing" his soul and by Sam not looking for him etc. But it felt unnecessarily cruel and even knowing how it was needed to motivate Sam to make his confessions, I was saddened by it.

Then came season 9. You might think that Sam forcing an angel inside Sam is the ultimate act of non-heroicsm for me. In many ways it is, but I can actually understand Dean doing this. As "saving Sam" is one of his main directives it makes sense that he'll do everything he can to achieve that. I also believe he did it because he felt like he was doing the right thing - and maybe he was. In order to keep saving the world it needs two Winchesters and if that means crossing a line to do so, well, they are the sacrifices that need to be made. I kind of get that.

For me though, the nail in the coffin and the thing that I now realise is the reason Dean is no longer a hero to me is that after everything - using Gadreel to heal people who died while he was inside Sam, not telling Sam what he'd done, Gadreel killing Kevin whilst inside Sam, Sam having needles stuck into his head, his tattoo burnt off and him being momentarily possessed by Crowley - after ALL that - the pain, the defeat, the sense of betrayal Sam felt he said four words:

"I'd do it again".

It's from this moment that the accumulation of all those "little" things finally added up and that was the final straw. It was the moment that told me that Sam's suffering mattered less than Sam being alive. That's not the Dean that I fell in love with, the one that said this in season one:

SAM: I wish I could have that kinda innocence.

DEAN: If it means anything, sometimes I wish you could too.

And there was nothing much in the end of S9 that changed my mind about that. There really wasn't the chance for him to either. The Mark had taken hold and his actions were governed by that itch. There were moments that it felt like Dean was fighting to get back to the Dean we used to know, but with him knocking out Sam and deciding to face Metatron by himself, his fate was sealed.

Then Dean was really gone. It was a wonderful relief watching demon!Dean because there was no longer a pretence of trying to do the right thing anymore. He could let loose and be who ever he wanted to be. He was, in fact, an absolute delight. Demon!Dean made sense because there was no hiding anything. There was no real inner struggle and he could allow his violence and verbal abuse to be free. Ironically, there were moments that reminded me of early Dean - possibly the lack of weight on his shoulders (?). Demon!Dean was far from being any sort of hero though. The complete opposite in fact. A reminder of what was truly missing from real Dean.

The problem for me is that the Dean I knew and loved hadn't really been around for quite a while. Demon!Dean was a way of escaping watching the "real" Dean become less and less like the original one.

And now, after 10.03, Dean is back, cured from his demon-ness. I should be celebrating and feeling great to have him back (like I did with soulless!Sam) but I have mixed feelings about him. Those niggling little things that existed before he became a demon are still there. It's not just things like telling Sam that Lester is all on him, but that overwhelming feeling that Dean hunts purely because he likes it. I know that Dean has always liked hunting, but the "saving people" aspect of their job seems long gone. Victims are almost dismissed (or not trusted, perhaps even nuisances). It's the killing and the thrill of the hunt that's more important. The fact that vessels are no longer considered victims or not seen as people that could be saved adds to the feeling that they are both, in fact, less heroic.

But I have hope (*clings to hope*). Dean's final words in Paper Moon (10.04) were "But I am just trying to do the right thing, man. 'Cause I am so sick and tired of doing the wrong one". This signalled not only that Dean knows it's been a while since he been all those things he used to be, but also that he maybe he's now on a journey of rediscovery. Hopefully discovering that the hero is still in there and even with all the shit he's been through (including the Mark!) he'll rise above it, acknowledge his mistakes and start to make decisions that might be tough, but hopefully more morally and ethically sound.

We'll see. All I know is that I miss him. I enjoy Dean's struggle, but I want to see him win in a way that doesn't continue to compromise the character he once was.

I think the moment when "saving people" becomes more important than "hunting things" we may begin to see a re-emergence of Dean Winchester - modern day hero. :)
6th-Nov-2014 03:09 pm (UTC)
Thanks for posting this. I don't have much to say about it, but as I read it I found that you articulated a lot of things that has made me like Dean less over the last few seasons. I mean, I still love the guy! But he's made me uneasy for some time now, and I have a hard time trusting him. I know that he's grown and changed, and I appreciate that the writers are letting his characterization reflect that, but... Dean.
6th-Nov-2014 03:20 pm (UTC)
Thanks hun. It's good to know I'm not the only one. I felt I needed to sort some things out in my head (and heart!). And even though I'm feeling this now, I still love the character and always will. I sincerely hope they find a way of restoring some of his former heroism soon.
6th-Nov-2014 03:38 pm (UTC)
A great summary of how I feel myself. I've always loved Dean and I'm pretty sure I always will, but he has lost a lot of the heroic shine that was very much a part of what endeared me to him in the first place.

Both Dean and Sam are very flawed characters which is a huge part of why I love them. I don't put either of the on a pedestal, and I'm not one of those fans who wears blinkers and can see no flaws in my favourite character. Nor will I twist things to justify either of the boys actions as I see so many people doing.

Dean's shine began to tarnish for me in season 4. I'm not saying Sam didn't deserve a lot of the grief Dean heaped on him - some of his actions were horrific - but there was often such a level of self-righteousness in Dean that he became spiteful and cruel at times. Forgivable to an extent because of his own suffering, but still. When Sam reached out for help and told Dean he was Lucifer's vessel; something that is possibly the most terrifying revelation ever and Dean rebuffed him, I found that very hard to get past but I did. Until the moment the amulet was tossed in the trash in season 5. He was hurt, exhausted, and stretched beyond his limits, but it was such a cruel blow to deliver to his brother I found it hard to forgive.

I have similar issues with all of the other things you've mentioned, especially telling Sam he should pray to be forgiven for being brought back without a soul. I think that's one of the most callous and shocking statements in the history of the show. I was dumbfounded. And then after the mess with Ezekiel, instead of saying he couldn't be sorry for saving Sam's life (which I completely understand) but apologizing for deceiving Sam and tricking into the possession, he said he'd do it again. There was no remorse shown to Sam, and I think that's all he really needed.

I do love Dean, but I can no longer see him as the hero he once was. You're right, hunting things has become more important than saving people, and I'm hoping this is the turning point for both of them, where the reverse becomes true again.
6th-Nov-2014 04:14 pm (UTC)
When Sam reached out for help and told Dean he was Lucifer's vessel; something that is possibly the most terrifying revelation ever and Dean rebuffed him, I found that very hard to get past but I did. Until the moment the amulet was tossed in the trash in season 5. He was hurt, exhausted, and stretched beyond his limits, but it was such a cruel blow to deliver to his brother I found it hard to forgive.

These were the exact breaking points for me, too. After "The End," I watched only tiny bits of S5. I was so angry about that episode. And then the amulet scene was one of the bits I saw, and I dropped the show completely for a while. I couldn't stop caring what happened, though, and when I read the description of "Appointment in Samarra," I tuned back in. That episode made me love Dean like crazy all over again, and I loved the rest of S6 and most of S7 (up until "Born Again Identity.")

I think that after S8-10, I'll never really come back around like I did in S6, but I'm glad that I got that chance to reconnect with the characters, even for a little while.
6th-Nov-2014 03:45 pm (UTC)
I don't have anything to really say, but I just wanted to let you know that I really like this post. <3

I'm one of the people who has absolutely adored every moment of the trajectory you've outlined here (masochism)/that is the part I am in love with. My personal feeeeelings upon feelings aside, I think from a writing perspective, it's ballsy as hell! Because holy moly, the show has basically two characters to start with, so to just kinda like...go for it? Man. I'm both impressed and surprised at the duration and degree of all this, and happy that there are these hiccups and recursions and false starts (when Dean's "I'm proud of us" line came up in 9x23, my first reaction was, UHHH WHAT PART OF THIS ARE YOU PROUD OF, EXACTLY? XP), but! I too want a happy/moral/ethical upturn for Dean, in the end. And I agree about his line in 10x04-- think we're all ready for that (some of us, if not necessarily me specifically haha, have been ready for years!). I think Dean is (going to be) ready now, too. <3
7th-Nov-2014 04:31 am (UTC)
Hey hun, thank you!

And this is when I'm torn!! If they are examining the darker sides to their characters because of the lives they have lived then that's pretty interesting. And ballsy! I agree. I like them examining the darker sides to themselves and I particularly like it when they do talk about the moral issues (not sure many ethical issues have come up in their discussion, but they might).

when Dean's "I'm proud of us" line came up in 9x23, my first reaction was, UHHH WHAT PART OF THIS ARE YOU PROUD OF, EXACTLY? XP

Omg! So did I! I was just so flummoxed by that statement. Sure, the sentiment was awesome but there was very little that happened in S9 that either of them can be really "proud" of. Though, I took it as Dean's "final" words and in that context maybe is was simply about everything they had done to that point. Not just the recent stuff. I was torn between…"awww broment" and "ack! what?!"

I would like to be able to look back on all this as I did once S4 and S5 was over and SEE what grounds they are making. It was a long road for them during S4/S5 but they came through as heroes -both for each other and for the world. I am hoping that by rediscovering why they hunt things they may begin to see the light again. I suppose in the dark world they live in that's very hard.

6th-Nov-2014 04:19 pm (UTC)
Oh very well put. You have summed up what I was feeling but I hadn't done the necessary analysis of WHY. I have always loved a flawed hero, and never expected them to be perfect - but there are certain lines that a hero shouldn't cross, and Dean while he's been himself (not a demon, not possessed, just Dean) has crossed a few of those lines now.

I too hope this isn't just poor writing, and that they are actually going somewhere with this deconstruction, because, like you, I miss the man I fell in love with and carried on loving through seasons 1 to 5 without any reservation. Now - I have a LOT of reservations.
7th-Nov-2014 04:38 am (UTC)
Thank you hun. I was worried posting this because I don't want it to be seen as character bashing. I'd like to think we can analyse characters and see their flaws and problems without it being about hate. I think I do this because I have loved the character for so long. I want to try and understand what's changing in him. And I feel better after doing this I have to say. I feel like I can say - this is beginning to look deliberate and hopefully we'll see how this fits into future episodes. Both characters have a ways to go yet I fear.

But I am forever the optimist and hope it'll be ok again one day.
6th-Nov-2014 04:25 pm (UTC)
I think the moment when "saving people" becomes more important than "hunting things" we may begin to see a re-emergence of Dean Winchester - modern day hero. :)

I love this post, and this sentence especially. I understand why it's so hard for Dean to dig himself out from under the metric fuckton of crap he's had piled on him, and the even bigger mountain of his own descent into darkness. That doesn't make it any easier to watch. You're right, though, that was a rare moment of hope. Maybe the title "Paper Moon" reflects that fragile glimmer of a light at the end of Dean's tunnel.
7th-Nov-2014 11:55 am (UTC)
Thank you sweetie.

That doesn't make it any easier to watch.

That's for sure. Even if they are consciously stripping back these characters and showing us their ugly sides so they can re-discover their "goodness", it's not easy watching.

Maybe the title "Paper Moon" reflects that fragile glimmer of a light at the end of Dean's tunnel.

Oh nice thought. Let's hope so. Sam once said he can see that light and even though that light dimmed for him by the end of S8, maybe he's able to see it again and help Dean make his way out.
6th-Nov-2014 04:34 pm (UTC)
I have been waiting patiently since the promise of Zombie Sid & Nancy in S3 for them to both realize they are really just attractive serial killers and finally give me full-blown Psychochesters
7th-Nov-2014 11:59 am (UTC)
Well, I suppose we did get the wonderful psychochesters in one of Robbie's finest eps - Slash Fiction. :) And who knows! this might just be the season we get that! Carver might just come through for you after all…;)
6th-Nov-2014 06:07 pm (UTC)
Now I think it's no wonder both my RBB prompts are RPF...
I agree with all you said.
7th-Nov-2014 12:00 pm (UTC)
Yes. Lucky the Js are giving us lots to be excited about at the moment! :D I mean, Jensen moving to live 3 mins away from Jared and their children sharing strollers..*hearts in eyes*
6th-Nov-2014 07:00 pm (UTC)
You articulate the change in Dean's character very clearly. I have fallen a little out of love with SPN but hadn't put my finger on why, and I think your analysis encompasses some of the source of my sadness when I watch it now. We really can't get the early season brothers back because they have had so many soul-scarring experiences...but a tiny, tiny part of me wishes it had ended after Swan Song and I could have pretended that it was Sam for real under that streetlight and Dean managed to have a life with Sam, Lisa, and Ben in it...
7th-Nov-2014 12:04 pm (UTC)
Thank you hun. I've been feeling that lack of love for a while and really finding Dean hard to connect the same way I used it. Writing this helped me understand things a bit more.

tiny part of me wishes it had ended after Swan Song and I could have pretended that it was Sam for real under that streetlight and Dean managed to have a life with Sam, Lisa, and Ben in it…

Aww, nice image. The only reason I didn't want it to end with Swan Song was having Sam suffering in Hell, while Dean suffered on Earth without him. For Dean having all the people he loved in his life would be wonderful for Dean. I'd even love to see Sam have a family and (just like in real life!) they share their lives with their families together.

6th-Nov-2014 08:42 pm (UTC)
I don't have a lot to add, but, ::nods. points. flaps hands. nods some more:: kind of sums it up. Thanks for articulating what I haven't been able to put into actual words.
7th-Nov-2014 12:05 pm (UTC)
Thank you! I wasn't sure I was going to be able to put into words what I was feeling but once I started it began to pour out.
6th-Nov-2014 09:28 pm (UTC)
This all just makes so much sense to me. Thank you for articulating what I've been feeling so clearly.
7th-Nov-2014 12:07 pm (UTC)
Thank you. I sorry to hear you're feeling the same way, but glad to hear you felt it was clear. :)
7th-Nov-2014 12:36 am (UTC)
Yes to all of this. I think somewhere inside Carver!Dean, Kripke!Dean is trapped, howling in anguish. I can see how he is where he is but it's no fun to watch. He just breaks my heart and makes me mad in equal measure. I miss him something awful.
7th-Nov-2014 11:19 am (UTC)
somewhere inside Carver!Dean, Kripke!Dean is trapped, howling in anguish.

What a brilliant image! Definitely a concept I can get behind, because Kripke!Dean would be appalled at the things Carver!Dean has gotten up to.
7th-Nov-2014 01:24 am (UTC)
I think there's maybe a gap between the story the fans want to see, and the one the show is actually telling. The fans want to watch a story about heroes, when it's really about the morally corrupting effects of war, revenge and the hero myth. Sam and Dean believed in that myth, but the more they pursued it, the less heroic they became. What they became instead was vengeful spirits. I've never forgotten Sam's description of vengeful spirits from Roadkill. It describes the Winchesters' fate perfectly:

"Well, there's some part of them that... That's keeping them here. Like their remains or, um... Unfinished business . . . It could be revenge. Could be love. Or hate. Whatever it is, they just hold on too tight. Can't let go. So they're trapped. Caught in the Same loops. Replaying the Same tragedies over and over . . . they weren't evil people, you know? A lot of them were good. Just... Something happened to them. Something they couldn't control."

In reality, of course, the thing that keeps brining them back is us. We keep craving another season, and another, and another, always hoping for for that elusive happy ending the hero is supposed to be rewarded with when, in actuality, what we are watching is increasing misery and depravity with each successive season until our 'heroes' are long past the point of deserving a happy ending, and all that's left for them to desire is just an ending.

I've also never forgotten HALucifer's comment to Sam, which I strongly felt was also a message to us, the lesson we've yet to learn: "it ends when you can't take it any more".
7th-Nov-2014 12:22 pm (UTC)
Oh brilliant. Perfect way of putting it.

I think there's maybe a gap between the story the fans want to see, and the one the show is actually telling.

I think this is particularly true. More and more we are hanging on to what we've seen before and wanting to see that now. Almost grasping to anything that's remotely close. I remember fandom "celebrating" when Dean and Sam came back together midway through S8 and all I could think is - but this is tragic. It was heartbreaking and for the first time I began to think that they would be better off apart. But, as you say, we want (need!) them to be together so they have to keep find ways of achieving that.

Thank you. I love the idea of them being like vengeful spirits.

the lesson we've yet to learn: "it ends when you can't take it any more".

I think die hard fans (me included!) just don't know how to let go. I keep saying "I want to quit you" but maybe it's like watching a train wreck. I just can't look away.
7th-Nov-2014 01:38 am (UTC)
I am just commnt to show my agreement and support of this post.

And I did like Dean saying that he was sick and tired of doing the wrong thing.

Admitting it is the first step to recovery.

7th-Nov-2014 12:23 pm (UTC)
Thank you. And yes, that was my feeling about that line too.
7th-Nov-2014 02:12 am (UTC)
I've had weird upswings of hope and downswings of despair about Dean. I find the Gadreel possession very, very hard to get past, and partly I'm aware that that's because it affects me on emotional levels (and even physical levels; it literally gave me tracts of insomnia and queasiness last year) that aren't strictly about ethical evaluation. Dean's hardly the only person on the show who has done terrible things -- I mean, Castiel is a mass murderer, Sam has killed and manipulated and forced a demon back into its host to kill it and has acquiesced and participated in the more general darkening of the hunting ethos (I think one of the most telling moments in the increasing bleakness of the show may have been none of the main three, but Bobby, who reminded Sam and Dean and the audience that Meg Masters was an innocent, suffering person, becoming as ready as anyone to torture demons in their hosts).

I think what bothers me more about Dean is that when he thinks about his own actions, even when he's aware that he's crossed a line and convinced himself that he "had" to do it (and every one of the characters has availed themselves of that plea of necessity at some point), what bothers me with Dean more than with the others is that he often comes across as thinking primarily, or even only, about how his actions affect himself. He's often spoken of as selfless, and I think it's true that he has a very decentered self, but he's so strongly absorbed in his own subjective world that it's like he can't come to the simple point of "I damaged you and I'm sorry." He hardly seems to be aware of how others exist outside the image of them he's clinging to or betrayed by or whatever. So many of his "you" moments are accusations (not just towards Sam; he often follows a similar pattern with Cas), and so many moments that should be "you" moments are "I" moments.

Like, I think there were some serious problems with Sam's speech to Dean in Trial and Error, in that the worth he was trying to convince Dean he had was so bound up with being a hunter, and feeling that his worth depends on being a hunter (which at the same time he's aware is something soul-killing) is a big part of Dean's problems, but, for all that Sam's understanding of what Dean might need was incomplete and maybe even unintentionally damaging, he was still trying to convince Dean that he had worth as Dean. Whereas Dean's speech at the end of 8.23 was to me in a way even more disastrous than the catalogue of Sam's sins, because it was a list of what Dean had done and would do for Sam, with no "you" in it, no affirmation that Sam's value came from his own experiences and actions and qualities. And in all of season 9, which literalized that tendency to treat Sam as an object and banish his subjectivity, Dean didn't seem to come to any awareness. It's not the magnitude of a character's flaws that has the capacity to lose me, its a kind of obliviousness to them.

I haven't actually watched Paper Moon yet (it's a bit ominous that I became reluctant to watch as soon as the show was set to embark on a repair process, because I'm SO nervous about whether they'll be able to do construction as well as they did destruction), but there's something weirdly hopeful to me about the fact that a lot of what Dean seems to be feeling right now is sheer embarrassment. I like that partly because Dean ended up where he ended up not as a direct consequence of his choices in the first half of s9, but through a series of evasions, so I feel like Dean's road back can't be a direct one, and he may need to work from the outer layer of shame inward before he gets at a more real ethical questioning. And I also feel a bit hopeful about it because guilt is such a comfortable state to Dean at this point, and has become a refuge from responsibility rather than a spur to it, that shame/embarrassment, even if it seems like an evasion of foundation work, is such an uncomfortable state that he's going to have to go somewhere from it, he's maybe at least got a sense of restlessness that will create some kind of movement. Like it might shake him out of that kind of self-absorption I was talking about above, even if the sense of outside reality that manifests in embarrassment isn't the most healthy thing.

7th-Nov-2014 02:18 am (UTC)
And just to add to that already ridiculously long comment: I'm not sure about the hero thing. It's a role that's been destructive, and not just ethically dubious, in SPN. And I see so much of Aeneas in Dean (they're, like, the classic two dark Hufflepuffs of all time /definitive contribution to Vergil scholarship) that I guess in the generic type sense I see him very much as a hero now, just in a world where that can be a damn bleak thing. So maybe what I hope for Dean is that he'll stop being a hero and get a chance to recover being a person instead.
7th-Nov-2014 02:30 am (UTC)
You know what, bb? I agree 100% with this thoughtful, on-target post. Dean HAS changed, and not necessarily for the better. (And you know how much of a (Sam-lovin')Dean!girl I am.) ;) I've not yet forgiven him for having Ben and Lisa mind-wiped, or for sending the fake text to Sam in S8.

Dean's not the same bulletproof hero he was in S1-S4, you're absolutely right. The Dean we have today is much darker. He's now a deeply flawed anti-hero, more in the spirit of Eastwood's "Dirty Harry" than John Wayne's white-hat cowboys. This new-and-(not so)improved Dean will do whatever it takes to get the job done, and sometimes those acts result in distasteful acts or collateral damage. No one will ever vote Harry Callahan as the most loveable character ever, but at the end of the day, he's still a hero -- if a very dark one. :)

These days, Dean is much closer to Harry Callahan than the relative innocent he was in S1. I'm not necessarily saying this is a good thing, but it is a thing. If that makes sense. :)

Edited at 2014-11-07 02:31 am (UTC)
7th-Nov-2014 01:32 pm (UTC)
Hey honey!

but at the end of the day, he's still a hero -- if a very dark one. :)

Ah yes, it's a good point. Heroes are not necessarily always whited hatted ones. Hmmm, makes me think of that other Eastwood film (High Plains Drifter) where the hero is dark and dangerous. He fights the fight, but is not necessarily of sound mind. This could very much be Dean at the moment. And perhaps with a change of thinking and attitude I could learn to love this darker hero. I think while he (probably inadvertently) hurts Sam I will struggle with this version (because my heart aches so much for what Sam is going through). I think if Sam was equally dark (and OOOH! Maybe that's exactly what they are planning to do now! Sam has done a "dark" act to find Dean so maybe they'll be equally dark heroes).

but ack! I'm not sure i want dark heroes. Do I? Oh man, I'll have to think about this. In most cases I love dark heroes - or at least multi-layers ones. I think we can agree that both Sam and Dean are multi-layered heroes.

Thanks for the extra thinky! I feel like I need to ponder this some more. tebtosca mentioned above what to see the pyscho-chesters. Perhaps we are closer than we've ever been before with the version we have now…;)
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