I’ve been watching Supernatural for 10 years and I still get surprised by the fact that this show can routinely blow me away! I still get surprised that an episode can grip me to the point where I barely move, let alone breathe for 40 some minutes! It really is astonishing to say, that after 10 years I still don’t feel like I’ve seen everything this show can do.
“The Werther Project” was a brilliant representation of what Supernatural can be, and what I always wish I could convey when people ask why I'm so in love with this show. Episodes like this, that's why!
It was a dark, dark episode, probably the darkest Supernatural has done – or at least, up there. The subject matter is very close to many people’s hearts. Especially now, in this fandom, as the Always Keep Fighting campaign has opened up dialogue about mental health, depression, self-harm and suicide. These issues have touched many members of our fandom, and recently we heard that the Supernatural cast and crew lost someone close to them to depression. This, along with the personal struggles Jared has shared with us, was the impetus behind Jared’s first Always Keep Fighting campaign. Consequently for a lot of us, this episode packed an emotional wallop that went far beyond what’s happening with Sam and Dean, their relationship and their personal journeys.
This week, the focus being squarely on the brothers and only the brothers, gave us the chance to check in with where the Winchesters are emotionally and mentally, looking into the particularly gloomy recesses of their current psyches. And though they obviously want to be together, working and more importantly as brothers, side-by-side in the family business, they are also worlds apart. It was this juxtaposition of their devotion and distance that hit me in the feels the hardest.
Dean is off killing a nest of vamps on his own, to “take the edge off” as he tells Sam - an admission that the Mark of Cain is lusting for blood. He didn't wait for Sam's help because he doesn’t like Sam looking at him like a “diseased killer puppy”. Then twice during the episode Dean apologises to Sam for going rogue and going off to fight the vampires alone, even saying it was selfish and douchey of him! Dean’s raw honesty is almost painful to watch. He makes everything hurt.
I’m in love with this honesty that's sprouting out of Dean. It seems that he’s either learnt that lying to each other never leads anywhere good, or he just needs his brother so badly right now that he’s willing to be as transparent as is possible for him to ensure their relationship remains harmonious, because the only thing giving Dean hope and keeping Dean afloat is his brother’s resolute support. He trusts Sam. I don’t think it’s entered into his head (yet), that Sam could be, would be or is being duplicitous to the level he is. Which makes Sam’s persistent lying to Dean even more gut wrenching to watch.
We all get why Sam’s doing it. His sole focus, his sole mission is keeping his brother from succumbing to the affects of the Mark of Cain and becoming a demon again. Nothing else matters for Sam right now, and he’s willing to lie to Dean to achieve this, repeating the mistakes his brother has made in the past that he himself has hated, making decisions on behalf of his brother that he knows his brother does not want. Somewhere in Sam’s head he must be thinking that when Dean finds out about what he’s been doing it will break the trust and possibly destroy what they’ve spent the last couple of years clambering back, (with a few bumps in their relationship road of course). But like Dean before him, when it comes to his brother’s life, it’s worth all risks.
We’ve seen Sam make great sacrifices before. He’s jumped into the pit to stop the Apocalypse; he’s gone to the brink of destruction to close the gates of Hell, willing to die and only stopping because of his brother's pleads. But this time around, there is no grand world saving plan. This isn’t about that old chestnut the greater good. This is plain and simple all about Dean. All about saving the one person he’s never been able to save (though one could argue, Sam’s love has saved Dean over and over). Suzy died in the wake of Sam’s singular focus. She was collateral damage, and who knows what the spell to disperse the Mark will unleash. But Sam sees only one end game, his brother alive. Sam and Dean are more like each other than either would care to admit. *fan-girl sigh*
We’ve also seen Sam make deals with the “devil” before, but THIS Sam is not season 4 Sam! This Sam is 100% aware of what he’s doing. He knows it’s not a great idea, but he also sees it as the only way, so he really doesn’t give a damn about how bad this idea is! If it gets the job done, if it erases the Mark of Cain from Dean’s arm, it’ll be worth it. He’s not under the misconception that Rowena’s helping him to achieve his goal out of the goodness of her heart, he’s not being misled as he was by Ruby in season 4, he knows Rowena can’t be trusted. Yes, I’m sure she has something up her witchy sleeve, but Sam is well aware of who Rowena is and what she is and who she’s connected to. He’s not in league with her, he’s simply using her to his own ends. Which was made abundantly clear as he chained Rowena up, telling her if she wants out, she’d better hurry and crack the code, whilst he walked out the door without even a glance back over his shoulder! Badassed Sam may be my favourite Sam. Or maybe it’s devoted to Dean Sam. Put the two together, as we did in “The Werther Project”, and KABLAMY! SAM FUCKING WINCHESTER LADIES AND GENTLEMEN. Have I mentioned how much I love season 10 Sam?
Of course it wasn’t all kicking ass and taking names, we witnessed the super dark side of where Sam is mentally. The spell that protected the Werther box, played on Sam’s doubts, played on his fears about what he’s doing, and what the outcome might be, how far he’s willing to go for Dean and what he’s becoming; “The only one who can stop you is you.” If Sam didn’t feel like this, if he felt like what he’s doing is all hunky dory, he’d be sharing it all with Dean, but of course, he’s not. And when these brothers hide secrets from each other, it’s not just because they know the other won’t like it and will try and stop them, it’s because somewhere deep down inside where they’d prefer not to examine, they know what they’re doing is all kinds of wrong.
The clever twist on what Sam was going through turned out to be, that just like Susie and her family and just like Dean, Sam was infected by the spell that protected the Werther. Cutting himself to get the Men of Letters legacy blood to unlock the box, and continuing to cut himself when the blood spell wanted more and more and more, the spell in the guise of Rowena whispering in his ear to keep going, squeezing the blood out of his arm. Sam doing whatever needs to be done, whatever it takes to get at the answer locked inside the Werther that may save Dean, “If it wants more, it gets more”, his life slowly draining away into a bowl. Killing himself, without consciously being aware of it and without caring if that's the way it has to be. The spell doing its evil work without Sam knowing it. It was so damn hard to watch. So hard. So disturbing.
It’s when the brothers’ relationship is stripped back like this that you see the desperation under the surface of their devotion. You see how they are each other’s worlds, and even though they have other people in their lives now, even though their Universe is peppered with people who love them, they are so deeply bonded that they cannot bear the thought of a life without the other. Not that I dislike that. And not that I think it’s bad. It’s the product of a long life of having only one person to cling to, of having only one person who truly understands you and the in which you live. The brothers have spent all but a few years of their lives living in close proximity to each other, relying on each other, sharing pain that no-one else can possibly comprehend, knowing that this one person will always, no matter what, have their back. How can they not be each other’s stone number one? How can they not fight for each other no matter the consequence? It always makes me think of Ash’s off-hand comment in Heaven, that some people, those who are soul mates, share their Heavenly experience. And there was Sam and Dean, sitting next to each other in Heaven (glancing awkwardly at each other), so obviously the soul mates Ash was describing.
This is the thing I love most about Sam and Dean Winchester, and I long ago released any idea that their devotion is an unhealthy co-dependency. It’s who they are. It’s what makes them Sam and Dean. It’s what makes me love them with a fiery passion that sometimes, surprises even me. They love each other, they will die to protect each other, they will bleed – literally – for each other. They break and fill my heart all in one. The beautiful brothers.
While Sam was struggling with his own inner demons, the spell showed us what’s going on inside Dean’s mind. Dean’s always been a confliction of dark and light. He kills and admits to getting some level of enjoyment out of offing the bad guy. But he’s never been entirely comfortable with how comfortable he is with that. It’s been a struggle that we've watched him face and analyse over the years. Is he a hero or is he a cold-blooded killer? It’s why Dean found unexpected solace in Purgatory. Because in Purgatory there was no murky morality to examine, it was black and white, kill or be killed. It was pure. So when the curse takes over Dean, he’s thrown back into a place where he feels relief, a place where having the Mark of Cain doesn’t matter, in fact it would probably be an asset!
In this Purgatory in Dean’s mind he comes face to face with an old friend in the guise of Benny. Benny who Dean ironically “killed” to save Sam. Benny taps into where Dean is mentally. If Dean kills himself, he would never hurt anyone again (oh Dean…), he wouldn’t become a demon, he wouldn’t kill Sam or Cas, he wouldn’t put on them the onerous task of having to put Dean down when the Mark took him once and for all, something he knows neither could live with having to do. Benny tries to tell Dean, that killing himself is the right choice, the honourable choice, because if Dean does that, none of the things that Dean fears and dreads will happen.
Whether it was the Mark that allowed Dean to see through the illusion created by the spell, or whether it was Dean himself, his will to live and the knowledge that his friend would never push him to suicide, Dean was able to pull himself free from the affects of the spell and bring himself back to reality.
I have to say it that to hear Dean admit he always loved it in Purgatory was a punch in the guts. To think that maybe he pines for those days when he was trapped in that hellish plain because killing there was the only way to survive and self-doubt was never part of the picture, is so damn sad. But I guess, Dean's a warrior and that’s a part of himself that he seems to have come to terms with more over the last few years. I think Purgatory helped Dean understand himself a little, helped him understand the peace that he gets from doing his job, even if that does, on some level, make him a killer.
The real sockaroony came when Dean, in big brother mode found Sam bleeding out and almost dead. As Dean dropped to his knees to cradle Sammy’s face, it was only then that I put two and two together about this Rowena. When I realised Dean did not see her, I twigged that she was another manifestation of the spell. Call me slow, but I remembered how Suzy was blown out of the way when the Werther box was originally opened, and my mind had just gone in that direction. I was once again, surprised by my show. Then Dean opens up a vein to save his brother and mixes his legacy blood with Sam’s and the spell is broken. So much love for this episode! So. Much. Love.
The spell protecting the Werther Box tried to tear the brothers apart. As Dean said, with in an hour of being separated they we at the brink of death, and just to polish each and every one of us off, Dean then tells Sam... “The Universe is trying to tell us something we both should already know, we’re stronger together than apart.”
Amen Padaleski! Together is what makes the Winchester brothers strong. Together is what makes them who they are. They can do anything as long as they’re fighting side by side. It felt so good to hear Dean say that in his out loud voice! But it also felt like such horrible foreshadowing…because though Dean doesn’t appear to know it, they aren’t together, they are apart. Sam is waging a private war against the Mark of Cain and Dean has no idea he’s doing it. Dean thinks they’re on the same page, but at least where the pursuit for a cure for the Mark is concerned, and the continued existence of the Book of the Damned, they most definitely are not.
Robert Berens delivered an episode that gave us so much to chew on, so many wonderful Sam and Dean moments; broments and subtle comedic moments, overlaying the disturbing and the tragic. And isn’t that when Supernatural is at its best?
The end of this season is proving to be better than I could have ever dreamt of. Season 10 has been a wonderful ride and if the last couple of episodes are anything to go by, we’re in for a wild finale. Let’s all pre-emptively group hug!
Bonus cap for reasons...