a response to responses to criticisms of Dean throughout S9

Dec 15, 2013 19:30

In numerous meta communities, I've seen conversations of S9 which strike me as incomplete about some very important dimensions to the season, and I'd like to respond.

Specifically, my problem is the tendency to focus ethical defenses of Dean’s behavior for all of season 9 on criticisms of a single decision he made in the series premiere. This either misunderstands or misconstrues much of the argument that he is behaving badly. It’s crucial to differentiate between Dean’s initial facilitation of the possession and his continued participation in a months-long effort to con Sam into unknowingly hosting an angel.

The possession itself is…highly ethically questionable, but a move that I found provisionally defensible, due to the real-world analogy: if someone tries to kill themselves, as Sam did in the church, of course it is right to talk them down off the ledge and then force them to a hospital to get those injuries treated, and if their injuries put them in a coma their next of kin has the right - the obligation, even - to make certain decisions. The possession angle of it all makes it extraordinarily dicey, and I very much understand the perspective of those who unequivocally condemn Dean’s decision there. I have a slightly more conflicted take, but I am highly sympathetic to the opposition to it.

That said, it’s not like the die was cast by the end of the episode and there was no going back. Gadreel makes it clear - to Dean and to the audience - that “Sam can eject [Gadreel] at any time.” At every step of the way, in the months between 9x1 and Dean’s first attempted confession at the end of 9x8, Dean not only failed to come clean to Sam, but failed to take any steps that might have allowed him to let Sam in on it. He didn’t follow up with Cas and ask any questions about Ezekiel that might have helped him know what he’d gotten Sam into; he didn’t bother to ask Kevin to look for the override spell until after finding out that he’d been had by the imposter.

Moreover, it’s not as if Dean told one lie and then didn’t bother to correct it. The problem in, say, Slumber Party is not solely that Dean told one lie to Sam three episodes ago. It is that in order to continue this lie, Dean nastily put down Sam’s intelligence (his disbelief that the angel tracking idea could be from Sam), made a decision for Sam that was likely to negatively impact Sam’s healing process (resurrecting Charlie), insinuated that Sam is a less capable hunter than he really is (claiming that Sam had been rendered unconscious by the witch and not “Ezekiel”), and lied to Charlie about the fact that she’d died at all.

Charlie’s death brings up another very important point, as one of at least three openings where Dean could have come clean to Sam and been relatively certain that he would succeed in convincing Sam to keep his roommate, at least provisionally. I’m on the fence as to whether or not Sam would agree to possession as a condition of saving his own life, but after the possession saved Cas? Charlie? Please. Dean could spin that in his sleep. Another moment of opportunity was at the end of Bad Boys, where Sam was even more receptive than usual to Dean’s perspective on their life together, to a point where I really do think he’d be persuaded by “don’t die on me after I skipped homecoming for you.” To be clear, I think such a confrontation would and ought to make most of us highly uncomfortable: angel possession is dangerous and unpleasant, it’s got to be a highly triggering idea for Sam personally due to his experiences with Lucifer and to a lesser extent Meg, it would bolster Sam’s belief that he is worthless except insofar as his body can be used as a tool to someone else’s purposes, and….look, angelic possession is such a mindscrew that I’m not sure a person can give meaningful consent (rather than terrified acquiescence) to it under any circumstances, let alone circumstances where their own life and the lives of their loved ones are hanging in the balance.

However, as painful as many aspects of Sam finding out would be, they are still better than the campaign of destabilizing lies to which Dean has subjected Sam over the last couple of months in order to prevent Sam from figuring out the elephant in the room, and by “the room” I mean “his own mind and body.” Convincing someone not to believe their own foundational perception of reality is a form of psychological abuse known as gaslighting, and it is highly damaging in and of itself. Even if “Ezekiel” had healed Sam completely and left without incident, Dean still exploited Sam's trust when he used several methods of keeping the possession a secret which are in and of themselves detrimental to Sam’s well-being, including but not limited to:
  • undermining Sam’s confidence in his hunting abilities: “Saved your ass. Like usual.” (9x2); the incident mentioned above in 9x4.
  • making Sam more vulnerable in fights with monsters because they can surprise and therefore distract him when they reveal that they know something he doesn’t about himself: both Chef Leo (9x5) and Vesta (9x8) hit him with this.
  • undermining Sam’s confidence in his general strength and competence with the constant reminders that “you’re still weak from the trials.” (9x3, 9x5, 9x8, 9x9)
  • isolating Sam from others out of fear that they might provide some perspective on his situation: mostly Dean has accomplished this by shutting Cas out, but also through Kevin’s extended field trips out of the bunker where he cannot observe any strangeness in Sam’s behavior.
  • quite simply, making a conscious effort to rattle Sam’s belief that he is able to do even something so simple as tell time, as we see in their conversation early in 9x9.
When we evaluate Dean’s morality throughout S9, we are not talking about one big ethically questionable but emotionally understandable decision made long in the past. We are talking about a continuous pattern of behavior, a series of related choices, many of which are inherently hurtful to Sam and ought to be highly disturbing to viewers. While I quite enjoy seeing such a range of well-articulated opinions as people have shared on the issue, I think it is very troubling to decontextualize the initial possession from the subsequent pattern of manipulation and nastiness in order to defend Dean’s actions as being all about misguided love and concern.

This entry was originally posted at http://pocochina.dreamwidth.org/322021.html. Leave a comment here, or there using OpenID.

spn: sammay!, supernatural, spn: season 9, spn: dean what even, abuse, gaslighting

Previous post Next post