Supernatural: Defending Your Life
Okay Supernatural, I was ready to take a ride on the “Amy Pond Guilt Experience,” and instead you took me in a totally different direction.
The crux of the episode’s narrative was the arrival of Osiris, who was searching for people weighted down by guilt, holding a spectral trial, and then judging them innocent or guilty. If declared guilty, the “prisoner” would then be killed in the manner that emulated the crime they committed.
Now, I love any episode that directly addresses Dean’s inability to overcome the guilt that has been building, and building, and building over the years, so a Dean/Osiris showdown allowed Supernatural to deal with an issue that forms the core of this character — and serves as the reason for so much of Dean’s drinking. Dean’s guilt, and unmitigated commitment to family, has always been the most poignant part of his personality. I would argue that it’s what turned Dean from being a stereotypical frat-boy, womanizing, blue collar hunter, into the brother loved by the (female) audience for his unwavering loyalty, (mostly) pure heart, and combination warrior/knight errant/domestique qualities.
As Osiris puts Dean on trial, he brings out three witnesses — the people about whom Dean feels the most guilt. Now, if you’d seen any marketing for this episode, it was no surprise to hear Osiris call Joanna Beth Harvelle to the stand, as Jo figured heavily in the episode teasers. So Jo is the first witness, Sam is the second, and it is strongly hinted that Sam’s Amy Pond would be the third.
This could easily have devolved into a clichéd discussion of Dean’s guilt, but the line of questioning Osiris used exposed an interesting facet of Dean’s psyche. While Jo’s arrival might not have been a surprise (trailers), the reason that she was there was rather unexpected and dovetailed nicely with Sam’s. Dean’s guilt doesn’t stem from any of the actions that led to Jo and Sam’s various injuries and death, but rather is woven into the idea that if he had never “pushed” them into hunting in the first place none of the mortal consequences would have materialized.
As a viewer, it was easy to take apart Osisiris’ line of questioning, and Sam, acting as Dean’s lawyer, did just that. Jo grew up in the hunter lifestyle, idolizing her father and working at a roadhouse surrounded by hunters and talk of supernatural phenomena. Dean didn’t push her into becoming a hunter; he just gave her an opportunity to put her skills to work. With Sam, even if Dean hadn’t shown up at Sam’s Palo Alto apartment, plans would have been put into motion to get Sam back into the game. Regardless of what happened in the Winchester family, Yellow Eyes always had Sam’s future mapped out.
Yet even though Sam brings all of this out, and Dean acquiesces to Sam’s logic, it’s not very convincing. In fact, it becomes readily apparent that while everyone else realizes that Dean isn’t responsible for what has happened, that he doesn’t need to bear this guilt (Jo even states exactly that), Dean refuses to believe them. That guilt is so ingrained in his character and in his personal narrative that he will not abandon that burden. And even though Sam is making a convincing case, Dean accepts his death sentence before the third person is brought out, sure that it will be Amy Pond.
Yet I wonder, would it have been? I know that’s what the show is hinting towards, but Dean doesn’t feel guilty about killing Amy. He doesn’t think he’s made a mistake in killing Amy. In fact, Dean doesn’t stop Osiris from calling Amy to the stand because he can’t handle being faced with his actions, but rather because he doesn’t want Sam to find out what he has done. He doesn’t want to damage his relationship with Sam – that’s markedly different than feeling guilty about killing Amy.
This becomes clear when Sam leaves Dean in the hotel room. We know Sam can’t be used as the weapon of justice, as he is still alive, but there is a brief moment where it is unclear whether the weapon to step out of the shadows will be Jo or Amy. If Dean truly felt such remorse, such guilt, for killing Amy, then she would have been the one to kill him. Yet that isn’t what happened – it’s Jo. Jo’s time as a hunter – Jo’s death during the pre-apocalypse – that’s what Dean cannot get over – that’s the burden he refuses to let go – a burden that he’s ready to die for.
That, of course, makes the end scene, with the boys sharing feelings while they drink beer and lean on the Impala, all the more painful, as Dean realizes that the guilt he shares is his problem and his alone. Rather than returning from Hell burdened by his experiences, as Dean does in season four, Sam sees it as a soul-cleansing experience. Sam’s suffered for his sins and he no longer feels guilt for anything he’s done –the past is past. The question remains whether Dean will ever be able to lessen his burden – whether he’ll ever let go of the guilt he feels.
Quick note: I’m always pleased when Supernatural allows for the existence of all gods. While so many episodes of the past few seasons have been focused on angels, devils, and God, they have never used that as a reason to omit the potential for other spiritual entities. Osiris and Lucifer can both rule over the underworld.
I also love the rational Bobby telling Sam that he and Dean need to get the hell out of Dodge: “He weighs the guilt and if he finds more than a feather’s worth, boom, you’re done. . .This guy hones in on people that feel guilty. Who does that sound like to you?”
At some point I really want to write about Supernatural’s woman problem. I know it’s been discussed in other forums, but having Jo back, albeit briefly, was a reminder of what this show is missing without her and Ellen.