SPN 9x23 - Do You Believe in Miracles?

May 23, 2014 16:08


As much as I knew it was a plot possibility, I was and am pretty stunned by the idea of demon!Dean. Like….they went there?! Dean has spent so long dehumanizing others, going so far as to claim to see nothing wrong with consciously stripping Sam of his humanity, that he has actually lost his own. He hasn’t become something he’s not, he’s become the sum total of his actions. Knights of Hell are different than regular old demons in terms of mythology, but they also seem to be different in terms of metaphor - many, perhaps most, demons didn’t have much in the way of a choice in the giving and receiving of cruelty which made them what they are. Dean, like Cain, didn’t need to be tortured to turn on his brother. *(A whole lot more below.)

Can we talk about what a drama queen/used car salesman Cain himself is, though? “With the Mark comes a heavy burden,” my ass. “It’ll turn you into a demon” isn’t fine print, it’s easier to say than the riddle he spat out. I mean, I don’t think Dean didn’t know on some level, after Cain made Dean promise to come and kill him, but if he’d heard it stated plainly it would’ve burst his IMMA HE-RO! bubble, which Cain of course knew, and he was more committed to his legacy than his pacifism, so he chose words that let him congratulate himself on giving Dean the chance to ask while still maximizing his chance of getting the result he wanted. He and Dean deserve each other AFAIC.

I was so rattled by the initial speculation that Sam would die curing Dean that I forgot for a couple of days that the cure isn’t inherently fatal to the person performing it, so. I guess that’s where it’s going? It’s quite possible that we're watching a very long game with SAM NEVER SAVES DEAN WAAAAAAH, though it’s also complicated by narrative awareness that (a) yes he does and (b) he would not have any obligation to do so even if Dean were not abusive, which he is. Still, even bearing in mind that it doesn’t have to be fatal, that prospect makes me unsettled in a way that suggests it could be really interesting? Because I’m presumptively uncomfortable with the idea of “curing” a person of what they are. I don’t think it’s healthy (nor is it supposed to be) for someone to drain themselves to that extent because Saving People Hunting Things. I didn’t like watching Sam take those syringes to himself, I didn’t like watching him shove them into Crowley, and I am kind of viscerally spooked by the idea of Sam draining himself like that for Dean (“if you love him enough you really can make him change what he is!!” and such). It’s an uncomfortable idea, but the best stories tend to be made up of uncomfortable ideas. I don’t think there’s any circumstance where I’d be okay with him dying for Dean’s humanity, but other than that I think it could work. Or I might be as off-base with this prediction as usual, lol.

As much as Sam has consciously wrapped his mind around some of Dean’s bullshit, he still on some level thinks that there’s some rhyme or reason to Dean’s ever-swinging goalposts. He really thinks that if he’s ~mature enough to be cavalier about violence generally and supportive of Dean doing it, then Dean will deign to acknowledge that he is good for anything. It’s like Charlie Brown, if Peppermint Patty were a Lifetime movie villain with an arsenal: no matter how many times he learns his lesson, he’s always going to end up flat on his back seeing stars.

Probably that’s why Sam being the World’s Worst Warden worked for me? He doesn’t want to treat Dean with as much hostility as Dean treated him and he doesn’t want to think that the problem is as dire as it is, so he pulls his tactical punches. YOU TRIED, SAM. He floundered emotionally in a way that made a lot of sense for the situation, but I do want to say that Sam acquitted himself ethically in some ways that I was worried about going into it: he kept his eye on the ball and neither got distracted by opposing everything Dean wanted to do, nor threw his own strategic questions to the wind.

Dean, in his seemingly endless spiral of douchiness, tells an unconscious Sam it’s not Sam’s fight, and that’s actually true, but it’s not Dean’s fight either. Metatron is the angels’ problem. Metatron wasn’t going to be killed with the First Blade any more than demon!Dean was going to be killed with an angel sword. Maybe it was possible, but it wasn’t going to happen. So it’s fitting that Dean’s tantrum does nothing to resolve the central conflict - that solution is all Cas and Gadreel getting home, smashing up the tablet, and conning Metatron into revealing himself to the Host.

And you shall know the truth, and the truth will set you free. It’s Gadreel and Cas, the dupes, who end up exposing the liar in front of all the angels. Nobody could have brought Metatron down but Cas, and so Metatron having kept Cas alive at the end of last season is what ended him in that cell by the end. Gadreel was probably the most heartbreaking part of the story for me. His insistence that he should have been protecting others - as if he was not someone who could not protect himself for so much of his existence - was very human of him, and quite plausibly something he unwittingly absorbed from Sam. (Alas, poor Bartender! WE HARDLY KNEW YE. EXCEPT THAT YE WERE REALLY HOT.)

All that said, though, I really did enjoy Metatron’s showdown with Dean. These two characters have a major problem with their insistence on crowbarring others into their preferred narratives. I also thought Metatron’s talk about God - whether it was a rant or a cri de coeur I’m not entirely sure - about how people (and he was projecting, but it was an astute observation of people generally) grew more desperate for God’s approval, rather than less, as they felt His absence. It’s the tragedy of the Scribe, to be in some ways such an insightful observer but have absolutely no judgment or executive functioning of his own. Also his impressively bitchy sense of humor speaks to me.

Metatron is one of the more opaque authorial avatars I’ve seen. He’s not the divinely inspired (or divine, depending on who you ask) Chuck, he’s someone who wanted to rise from transcription to creation. Is his villainy and pathos and patheticness a poke at obstinately one-dimensional fanon, or a reflection of discomfort at playing with someone else’s toys? Was his nasty swipe at the PCAs actual self-depreciation, or was the scorn of the antagonist supposed to reflect sincere appreciation? Is his fawning over “love, and heartbreak, and…..love” (at which I am still cackling) satire or sincerity on the part of the narrative? I really don’t know, and I’m not sure that I need to know, but I do think that this not-so-omniscient storyteller reflects a narrative that isn’t entirely comfortable with what it was or is.

The angels’ guilelessness continues to break my heart. They’re so short-sighted - they’ve been made, forced to be that way - even Metatron, ultimately, expected the universe to work on a “plug in X action, get Y reaction” principle, and was so infuriated and hurt when it didn’t work that way. The angels that stood with him because he’d outed Cas really didn’t think to interrogate his motives for doing that; the ones who stood against him had none of the skills they’d need to formulate a plan, so they just went around yelling wild things at the humans as if that would do any good.

I think that scene at the end was….a wise choice in dealing with fandom. People who measure the brothers’ relationship by the Big Dramatic Gestures can say “look, Sam really didn’t mean he wouldn’t do the same for Dean, blah blah”; if you’re not comfortable with that then you can lean on the fact that it’s not the same circumstances because Sam wasn’t the one trying to make Dean be something that he’s not.

It is an interesting question as to what Sam was planning on doing, exactly. “You’re the one who got him into this, Crowley” - he’s desperate to make the problem here be anyone but Dean - “and you’re going to get him out of it” - which, notice, is not “I’m going to get him out of it” which doesn’t sound like a deal to me though it’s still possible - “or so help me God….” - and he doesn’t finish that sentence. The demon deal is a possibility, though I tend to wonder if he was considering either trying to make Crowley more human with his own blood, or to tap into whatever’s left of his own powers and torture Crowley into complying. I actually don’t know that Sam had made up his mind on what he was going to do. (Because sometimes that is a thing that desperate people do, is to struggle to make up their minds? And that is okay?)

Crowley's final monologue landed for me, though I don't have much to add to it. I do like that he told Dean to "feel what I feel" - ie, that his despised FEELINGS aren't solely a byproduct of his flirtation with humanity. He feels different now, not less.

*Dean's demonization and Catholic theology

It’s deliciously sacrilegious to me for the titular “miracle” to be something so perverse. I don’t know if it was intentional, but I do think it was of a piece with the pseudo-religious shift in metaphor concerning demonness and monstrosity. In the earlier seasons, being a demon was in a lot of ways just about being other in some way, some poor unfortunate soul who for whatever reason is now a black-eyed dangerous Them to Us. I think we’ve moved to a different facet of being a demon, which is about sin, specifically mortal sin. To be clear, I don’t think that the show is actually saying we should accept the Church as a moral authority and that we are accountable to God for our sins. I think the narrative endorses a communitarian perspective, where our moral accountability is to each other and ourselves, but I think the thought process of determining right from wrong is very Catholic and I want to unpack it a little. (Still, I know there’s enough Christian theology in the world, so, sorry.)

Retrospectively, I think this has been at the back of my mind for much of this season, in that the constant back-and-forth and refusal to apologize pinged me in a lot of ways as being about what Catholics conceptualize as the requirements of Reconciliation. According to catechism, being forgiven and reconciled with God is not entirely about the ritual we explored in the S8 finale. That’s the form, not the substance. It’s about acknowledging to the priest two things: contrition, and a firm intent not to do it again. Self-flagellation and manpain may or may not be socially expected, but it is not liturgically sufficient. You can’t do “sorry you feel hurt but heavy is the head of the biggest dick around.” You have to at least sincerely want to do better.

The sacrament of Reconciliation is also known as Penance, and also known as Confession. Dean dying “unrepentant” to the bitter end, despite being given numerous chances to reconcile with Sam, is more than mere pride. And let’s be quite clear: even the overture he almost made during the finale was specifically limited to “these last couple of months,” which deliberately leaves out the shit he pulled leading up to his getting the Mark. Even if you do stop sinning, the sins themselves remain on your soul: in this light, Cain is a cautionary tale, with his eternal rationalizations lasting over a century into his choice to lay down arms.

This is also the big distinction between S4 and S9. Catholicism distinguishes between “mortal” sins and “venial” sins, with the degrees of severity implied by the names. There’s not really a checklist of what sins are, necessarily, and there’s really not an itemized list of which sin is which. A mortal sin (1) is a sin severe enough to rend the soul’s relationship with God which (2) is freely done (3) with full knowledge of its wrongness. Notice that there’s nothing in there about outcome, nothing about uniqueness, nothing about ick factor, and certainly nothing about being tricked. From this perspective, Dean committed Cain’s own sin five years ago, when Bobby said “we’re killing him” and Dean said “at least he dies human.” Dean knew he was attempting fratricide, he could have stopped it, and he chose not to. In a court of law, it’d matter that he lucked out when Cas opened the panic room, but it does not matter to the God Cas believes he serves.

If I'm on the right track here (nb: that is an enormous IF) then the key issue is that a mortal sin is not an unforgivable sin. Catholic dogma holds that if you die with a mortal sin unforgiven, you go to Hell. And Dean has died, and right now belongs to Hell, but he is still, as Crowley says, alive in some way. As serious as things are - and the fact that he's actually lost his humanity means that they can't get any more serious - he can still come back from this, and rebuild some peace with Sam, with himself, and with the universe, if he chooses to do it.

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catholicism, spn: sammay!, supernatural, the author is boxed, spn: season 9, spn: corpus angelorum, spn: dean what even

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