A TALE OF TWO BROTHERS: by Dickens Winchester
It was the best of times. It was the worst of times. It was the age of wisdom. It was the age of foolishness. It was the epoch of belief. It was the epoch of incredulity. It was the season of Light. It was the season of Darkness. It was the spring of hope. It was the winter of despair. We had everything before us. We had nothing before us. We were all going direct to heaven. We were all going direct the other way.
– Charles Dickens. A Tale of Two Cities
Those beautiful lines by Charles Dickens so easily sum up the current state of Sam and Dean’s relationship, indeed the very state of their lives.
After a winter of despair, with nothing before them but grief and loss, blood and death and dirt, there was a spring of hope. Dean escaped Purgatory and the brothers were reunited.
It should be the best of times for the brothers’ Winchester. They are together. There’s no looming Apocalypse they have to save the world from. They’ve both spent time in Heaven and Hell, and now, after at least six Seasons of Darkness (the total depends on how you view the first season), this could be their Season of Light. They have the wisdom of the Word of God tablet to help them shut the gate on all demons forever.
And yet”¦ There is foolishness where there should be belief. And instead, this is among the worst of times.
“You don’t believe in me”, observed the Ghost.
“I don’t”, said Scrooge.
“What evidence would you have of my reality beyond that of your senses?”
“I don’t know,” said Scrooge.
“Why do you doubt your senses?”
“Because,” said Scrooge, “a little thing affects them. A slight disorder of the stomach makes them cheats. You may be an undigested bit of beef, a blot of mustard, a crumb of cheese, a fragment of an underdone potato. There’s more of gravy than of grave about you, whatever you are!
-Charles Dickens A Christmas Carol
As many have pointed out – other WFB writers (you can read some of my thoughts on the issue in Bitten By A Change in Perspective), Jeremy Carver and even Castiel – a central theme this season is perception. But as Ebenezer Scrooge so adroitly noticed, our perception is affected by many, many things.
It’s affected by our health, our sobriety (or lack of it) and our emotions. But it is also massively affected by the way we have chosen to interpret all the events preceding that moment.
It’s called The Ladder of Inference. Basically, it’s the idea that we make decisions based on our selective editing of the facts, not necessarily the full reality of the facts. We tend to dismiss information that might go against, or even refute our assumptions.
We all do it, and we do it everyday. We do it in simple ways, like tapping a watermelon to see if it’s ripe. We remember all the times it worked to give us the perfect, juicy slice. We tend to forget the times it failed miserably. Of course when we mess up our decisions around watermelon, there’s always the compost pile to solve the problem. Of more concern, is that we also make many, many inferences in our relationships.
Castiel tried to point out the Ladder of Inference to Dean in “A Little Slice of Kevin”.
DEAN: What the hell happened? Back there. Purgatory. I told you I would get you out. We were there! It was like you just gave up. It’s like you didn’t believe we could do it. I mean, you kept saying that you didn’t think it would work. Did you not trust me?
DEAN:I did everything I could to get you out – everything! I did not leave you.
CASTIEL: So you think this was your fault? Everything isn’t your responsibility. Getting me out of Purgatory wasn’t your responsibility.
DEAN: You didn’t get out. So whose fault was it?
CASTIEL: It’s not about fault. It’s about will. Dean, do you really not remember?
DEAN: I lived it, Cas. Okay, I know what happened.
CASTIEL: No. No, you think you know. You remembered it the way you needed to.
DEAN: Look, I don’t need to feel like hell for failing you, okay? For failing you like I’ve failed every other godforsaken thing that I care about! I don’t need it!
CASTIEL: Dean. Just look at it. Really look at it.
The memory Castiel encourages Dean to re-examine shows Castiel pulling AWAY from Dean. Not, in fact, Dean failing to grip Castiel tight, and raise him from Purgatory.
Dean’s own issues and perceptions mean that he often looks to blame himself first. He wanted to save Cas. Therefore, Cas must have wanted to be saved. But, Cas was NOT saved. Ergo, Dean was at fault, and incapable of saving Cas.
Of course, Sam also likes to climb the Ladder of Inference. What he craves most is his older brother’s admiration, respect and above all, his trust. So when Dean, under the influence of the cursed coin in “Southern Comfort” hurls these words at him, they’re bound to hurt.
DEAN: You never even wanted this life. Always blamed me for pulling you back into it.
SAM: That’s not true.
DEAN: Really? ‘Cause everything you’ve ever done since you climbed into my ride has been to deceive me.
SAM: What do you want me to say? That I’ve made mistakes? I’ve made mistakes, Dean.
DEAN: Mistakes? Well, let’s go through some of Sammy’s greatest hits. Drinking demon blood, check. Being in cahoots with Ruby. Not telling me that you lost your soul. Or how about running around with Samuel for a whole year, letting me think that you were dead while you’re doing all kinds of crazy. Those aren’t mistakes, Sam. Those are choices!
SAM: All right. You said it. We’ve both played a little fast and loose.
DEAN: Yeah, I might have lied, but I never once betrayed you. I never once left you to die. And for what, a girl? You left me to die for a girl?.. Benny has been more of a brother to me this past year than you’ve ever been! That’s right. Cas let me down. You let me down. The only person that hasn’t let me down is Benny.
Sam justifiably feels attacked, and believes those words are meant for him. His perception is, quite understandably and logically, that Dean has not forgiven him. What other possible interpretation could there be? Especially when paired with this exchange from “Citizen Fang”:
SAM: Listen, Dean, we came here on a dead body. You asked for some time, and now there’s another dead body. Are we just going on trust here?
SAM: Okay. Because we’ve killed for a lot less, and you know how these things turn out for us.
DEAN: Yes, I do – too well. In fact, every relationship I have ever had has gone to crap at some point. But the one thing I can say about Benny – he has never let me down.
SAM: Huh. Well, good on you, Dean. Must feel great finally finding someone you can trust after all these years.
DEAN: All I’m saying is that Benny is innocent.
It could be each brother meant exactly what he said. Quite possibly that’s the case. But for me some tumblers clicked into place with these two exchanges. It sounded like each brother was talking about himself!
When Dean says his relationships have gone to crap, he’s meaning it’s his fault they’ve never worked out. He’s the one who screwed up. He doesn’t have relationships. He has “applications for sainthood”. It’s what he does. He “lets down the ones” he loves.
Dean let Cas down because he couldn’t save him from Purgatory. Further back, he couldn’t convince him not to open the door to Purgatory in the first place.
Dean let Sam down when Sam was killed at Cold Oak. Dean has never forgiven himself for not getting there in time. Dean let Sam down this time because he died – AGAIN! What kind of a big brother dies, and leaves his younger brother unprotected? Not a very good one. What kind of big brother abandons his little brother, again and again? Not a very good one.
Dean believes he’s failed anyone who ever tried to help him. (Look at the deaths of both father figures – Bobby and John.) Benny helped rescue Dean from Purgatory. Now, he’s asking for help so that he won’t let Benny down too.
So when Dean asks Sam if he looked for him when he was in Purgatory, perhaps he’s really asking “Was I worth looking for?”
And when Sam is expressing his yearning for a safe, normal life, it’s quite likely he’s just stating a desire that he’s had since we met him, but that has been dormant due to more pressing concerns. But perhaps Sam is also really expressing his desire for Dean to live a safe, normal existence. For Dean to LIVE, period. Not to die, over and over again, leaving Sam to mourn him and try to live without him.
Perhaps Sam’s comments about Benny and possibly having to kill him are really about wishing he could go back in time and listen to Dean’s early warnings about Ruby. Maybe he’s wishing they had killed Ruby before she could take them so far along the path to the Apocalypse. It’s possible Sam still feels guilty about those mistakes, and the impact they had on the brothers’ lives. Now, he’s offering his brother the benefit of his painfully-learned experience. But to Dean’s ears they sound like verbal attacks on Benny, and veiled threats to kill his vampiric Purgatory pal.
“The things that never happen are often as much realities to us, in their effects, as those that are accomplished.”
– Charles Dickens David Copperfield
The problem with perception is that we believe what we perceive is real. Perception becomes reality. We start basing our decisions on those perceptions. And suddenly, you have two brothers who love each other, but can not communicate with each other.
“Never close your lips to those whom you have already opened your heart.”
– Charles Dickens
Certainly under Supernatural spells and in moments of great distress, they’ll blurt out all their resentments. But although they talk to each other, they never really listen. They never resolve any of those issues, or find a way to clear the air. So the pain gets put away, until the pressure builds up, erupting like a volcano of wounded feelings, burning everyone in its path.
So, what might the Winchesters say to each other if they had the benefit of Mr. Dickens way with words?
“I have been deceived, before, in the objects whom I have endeavoured to benefit; but I feel strongly disposed to trust you, nevertheless; and I am more interested in your behalf than I can well account for, even to myself. The persons on whom I have bestowed my dearest love, lie deep in their graves; but, although the happiness and delight of my life lie buried there too, I have not made a coffin of my heart, and sealed it up, forever, on my best affections. Deep affliction has but strengthened and refined them…”
? Charles Dickens, Oliver Twist
Both Sam and Dean could use this quote to describe their new relationships with Amelia and Benny. They were both lost and alone, terribly damaged but still in need of companionship.
Sam couldn’t fall for an innocent like Jessica again, because he wouldn’t see himself as being worthy of her. (Despite what he says about Hell burning away his guilt, I don’t believe it. I think he carries a truckload around too.) It makes sense he’d find a kinship with another damaged heart and with someone so like Dean – snarky, sarcastic, independent and with a tendency to push down feelings, deny their existence and run away from anyone trying to show them compassion.
Meanwhile, Benny shares many similarities with Sam. In Purgatory, he was smart, capable, and in control. He was knowledgeable, resourceful, and had Dean’s back. But since his return to the world, he feels like he constantly has to fight the monster within, and that everyone is always judging him. It’s very reminiscent of Sam, once he learned about his demon blood and destiny to become Lucifer. He’s a tragic character.
Sam and Dean might also want to consider this fact about their complex relationship.
“It is because I think so much of warm and sensitive hearts, that I would spare them from being wounded.”
– Charles Dickens Oliver Twist
Even after all these years and all they’ve been through, they still worry about losing the other’s love and approval. It’s like children not wanting to admit to having done something naughty in case Mom & Dad get mad and don’t love them anymore. Dean can’t admit he voluntarily carried a vampire’s soul out of Purgatory because that is such unDean behaviour. And Sam can’t admit how devastated he was by Dean’s death because that might appear weak.
The brothers would do well to remember they have friends who are willing to help them, if only they would ask.
“Family not only need to consist of merely those whom we share blood, but also for those whom we’d give blood.”
– Charles Dickens
Or, put more simply…
“Family don’t end with blood, boy.”
– Bobby Singer, No Rest For The Wicked
Bobby, you are so missed at this moment. You could bang their heads and hearts together and knock some sense into them. But, until you are somehow restored to this plane of existence, then Sam and Dean should remember they can lean on, as well as support, people like Sherriff Mills, Garth and even Charlie.
“I confess I have yet to learn that a lesson of the purest good may not be drawn from the vilest evil.”
? Charles Dickens Oliver Twist
Over and over again, when up against the vilest evil, Sam and Dean have proven, and been shown that the purest good – the power of love – is the strongest force in the universe. What they must do now is use a little of that love to really hear what the other is saying. They might find they each want, and need different things. But sometimes, more often than you might expect, separate paths lead to the same destination. And as long as the other is waiting at the end of the road (in the Impala!), does it really matter the route there?
“Happiness is a gift and the trick is not to expect it, but to delight in it when it comes.”
– Charles Dickens, Nicholas Nickleby