John Winchester Part II
Heroic Man of Secrets
Dammit John! What the hell did you know?!
(For Part 1, Check out John Winchester: The Mechanic From A Family of Mechanics)
What did you know John? How much? When did you begin to suspect? At what point did the first dribbles of suspicion and information make it to your hyper paranoid, intelligent and terrified mind? These questions, and more, are questions I doubt the show I love will EVER answer for me. But they haunt me more than any other strayed away plot point.
And ever since ‘Swan Song’, another unanswered question has wandered into my mind. Did part of John’s unease and drive come from a warrior’s gut feeling of being hunted? Sammy was being hunted. He was being pursued and watched early on in his childhood. Teachers, acquaintances, girlfriends and who knows who or what else watched. Did John’s senses pick up on this? Could it have played upon his obsession even more? His fear of Sam going away to college, where he would be alone and unsafe, very well could only stem from John’s single minded grief. But could it have also been an unknown and unknowable intuition of true danger for his youngest? Either way, if it were simple paranoia or a deep seated suspicion, I would like to point out that John, in this, was right. He was so very wrong in so much else, but in fearing for Sam, he was spot on.
For nearly four years he didn’t call his youngest, he didn’t knock on his door; leave a note, a voicemail…nothing. Instead he chose to drive by once in a while (stalk much John?) and brag about him when possible. All the while he was doing this, he did not give a portion of this fatherly attention to his eldest. He did not only make a wrong action, he lived wrong on that action for four years. Wrong piling upon wrong.
Give the man credit, he certainly knew how to wreak havoc.
“Our dad could.”
I have given his actions a lot of thought. Why did John act as he did? Why did he separate himself from Dean with no word? Why did he keep contact with the boys so minimal? Why did he claim protection while sending them on dangerous hunting missions? I tried my best to step into his boots, with the little we do know, think his thoughts, and reason his reasons.
How frightening, how terrifying, how panic inducing would it be to find out that your worst fears were minimal when compared to the truth? His fear is a reason I believe John went haring off without Dean. Not a fear of Dean being physically hurt, but a much worse fear. He did not want to pass on his own newly found terror to his eldest.
John was well aware of the bond between his sons. He was witness to its development after all. In the way he emphasized the importance of family, he was a part of its forming. He knew his boys, very well. We, as viewers, rarely have seen John with Sam and Dean, especially their younger selves. In the role we see on screen he is either gone, leaving or angry. But I look to the silences and unfilled blanks. This is the man who drove them for miles as they played or squabbled in the seats of the Impala. He taught them how to shoot a gun/crossbow, knife fight, use their fists, drive a car, run a con, make fake IDs, impersonate various professionals, lie to the cops, read a map, conduct research, recognizance, how to remain invisible to the system, get past alarm systems, and cover their tracks. He also taught an appreciation for classic rock, probably spent hours with Dean under the hood of the Impala, how to shave, how to not clean a motel room, find a derelict building to squat in, got them their first drink, gave them THE TALK about the birds and the bees, familial loyalty, reverence for Mary and a willingness to sacrifice for strangers. My point, he spent a whole lot of time with his sons, not just apart from them. Granted, the majority of this time was spent turning them into Hunters, but he was around them enough to know and understand how important they were to each other.
And knowing that bond, I believe he did not want to ruin it.
“He said that I might have to kill you Sammy.”
John somehow came to the conclusion that his baby boy may need to be killed. For the safety of mankind. Can you imagine having that piece of knowledge riding around in your head?
No really. Imagine it. Are you a parent? Or if not a parent, think of someone you love. Love more than yourself. Now try, just try to think of how it would be, to become utterly convinced that that loved one might have to be put down.
So John has kicked over this ugly stone and now has a suspicion in his mind, and he has a choice. Does he go back to Dean, faithful, obedient Dean, and look him in the eye? No, no he does not. How could he? How could he possibly tell his eldest this piece of knowledge? Hide it from him then? Dean followed orders, but John was well aware of Dean’s intelligence. If John let him in on the trail, Dean probably would have started putting two and two together. The fear and suspicion John felt, while hating to feel it, is something that he would not want Dean to know. How could he possibly contaminate the bond between his boys? So instead he split. He found the trail of Yellow Eyes. He needed to find the demon and the entire truth about the plans for his son Sam. He needed to stop things before they got worse.
Filled with revenge, fear, and a protective need to shield his sons, John went solo. He was not primarily protecting his sons from danger. He was protecting them from knowledge that could drive a wedge between them. But unbeknownst to him, Sam was having visions, DemonBrady lay in wait, and Jessica was scheduled to die.
And when Jess did die, on the ceiling as Mary did, that would have been a huge signal of confirmation. Yellow Eyes was after Sam. No way was that coincidence. The thing John feared was true. But as he told Missouri in “Home”, he evidently did not yet know the entire truth and must have felt desperate to find it.
“Saving people. Hunting things. The family business!”
John had his life turned upside down when a monster invaded his home. And being the sweet sensitive man he was, though later tried not to be, it may be he saw ‘civilians’ as who he used to be. He needed to protect them because no one had protected him. (This is of course separate from his issues of guilt that doubtless surrounded Mary’s death.) John raised Sam and Dean so that they were infused with a marrow deep instinct and need to protect others. Considering everything they are willing to do for strangers, it was core in their upbringing and comes as naturally as breathing. (I still remember my sense of shock during ‘Hammer of the Gods’ when the boys first impulse was to save the poor saps in the freezer. I’d forgotten all about them!)
And I think we all remember Dean’s conversation with John’s grave in ‘What is and What Should Never Be.’ That seems to sum up John’s education of his children quite well. “Them first.” Revenge and self sacrifice were apparently very high on John’s list of life rules.
But that still doesn’t explain how John, the man who taught the importance of family, would be willing to consider the murder of his son.
I again reference Sam to learn about his father. Sam has been known to look at the bigger picture. So I assume John would do that as well. Now again my mind is asking how much John knew, but it HAD to be a lot for him to consider killing Sam to be an option. The big picture must have loomed large.
But still, the mind screams “This is Sammy??” How dare he, that bastard!
“You know the truth, right? About Sammy? And the other children?”
“Yeah. I’ve known for a while.”
So let’s break this big picture down to a personal level. What if it was your town hit by an earthquake? What if your family died in a strange and unnatural disaster? What if you found out that it never would have happened if a young man had not accidentally let Lucifer out of his cage? How many people have died because of the wrong decisions made by Sam?
When I think of it in that light, I find myself reconsidering. Especially since, (and please remember, I’m pretending this universe is real) I wouldn’t actually know the Winchesters or anything about them. So one of their lives against the lives of those I love? I think I’d vote to kill the boy off. Sorry Sam.
And John, seeing a big picture, had to weigh the lives of those unknown sons, daughters, mothers, fathers, wives, husbands, loved ones, against the life of his son. I doubt that John knew the Apocalyptic end game. But he did see a tide of death if he couldn’t save Sam. His was a logical mind. It follows that considering murdering his son came from a logical conclusion. A painful one. I cannot imagine how it must have hurt him to come to that conclusion. And that conclusion led to three choices. Spill Sam’s blood. Watch the blood of many be spilled. Save Sam.
“I mean, come on you can’t, you can’t leave me here alone with dad, we’ll kill each other, you know that.”
This one was the hardest yet for me to find any empathy for. How the hell could John say that to Dean? Seriously? Seriously?! Dammit John! WHY would you do that?? WHY?? It was cruel beyond measure.
It took me a long time to come to peace with John over this one. It was those words of Sam’s to Dean as he lay in a coma “..we’ll kill each other…” and my mind slowed down. Wait a minute. Wait just one minute.
John knew of the bond between the brothers. He loved both of his sons, and he also knew, just as Sam knew, that he and his youngest did not get along. We see Dean wandering the halls of the hospital, hunting the Reaper. We see Sam desperately searching for an answer. And we see John, thinking.
There was his eldest, dying in a hospital bed. There was his youngest, railing against him. There was the something he knew. That day in the hospital, I believe John was not only contemplating the loss of one son, but of both. John knew, he knew, that he couldn’t save Sam. And I think he was right.
Let’s play the ‘what if’ game. (Granted, a rather dangerous and infinitely ended game. But bear with me.) What if John did not make the deal? Dean would have either died and gone with Tessa, or died and become a spirit. What followed wouldn’t be too difficult to imagine. Yellow Eyes would have continued priming his ‘favorite’. Considering the flexibility both heaven and hell have displayed while manipulating destiny, the highlights of Sam’s road probably would not have changed that much. I’d bet the Devils Gate would have still been opened, allowing Lillith and the others out. Ruby would have shown up in one form or another, only instead of a strong brother bond to try to worm her way between, she would have had ripe pickings in the already fractured relationship between John and Sam. Ruby was a Master at manipulation. Man I hate her but she was good. A real talent. How long would it have taken her to coax Sam away from his Father? Not long I think. Not with Sam grieving for Dean. Not with John grieving for Dean. Not with those two men being as similar as they were. I think they would have clashed and clashed hard.
So there is John, knowing Dean is dying and knowing there is no clean way to fix things. And there is John, knowing that there is no way he’ll be able to save Sam. So he makes a decision, takes the Colt, and gives Yellow Eyes a call. He did not go down to that basement with the intent of selling his soul. That was not the plan. But desperate times…and John decided to exchange his soul to save Dean, and the hope of saving Sam.
“There’s something else that I want, as much as that gun. Maybe more.”
But still, none of that excuses what John next did to Dean. No, no excuses at all. But I asked myself what I would have said and came up against a brick wall.
John suddenly finds himself with very little time left to live. He has what, perhaps an hour, before he will be in hell. For eternity. To never again hope to see Mary. To never again see his boys. To never have a chance to exact vengeance. To die. To suffer. To become a hell tortured soul.
Soak it in John. But don’t panic. You can’t panic yet, because you can’t let your sons know. And besides, you can’t leave Dean completely in the dark. No, a message has to be passed on to look out for Sammy. But how to say it? How to express it without obliterating the bond between them?
He had very little time to phrase those words. Trudge up the stairs, maybe sit for a few minutes in the stair well, tuck the Colt behind his belt, find Dean’s room, see that he is alive, say goodbye to Sam, say goodbye to Dean and then…and then lay a burden on Dean like none other. Walk out of the room, clear the tears from eyes, face the Demon, lay down the Colt and die. Welcome to hell John Winchester. They have been waiting for you.
One quick side note. John basically walked into hell. He walked to the gates of hell for love of his sons. John, you stubborn, stupid, magnificent bastard.
What John told Dean was inexcusable. But, (and I almost hate putting that ‘but’ in) he was a bit preoccupied at the time. There were some heavy things on his mind. Terror and panic must have screamed and scrabbled at the edges of his sanity. All he had to cling to was the love he had for his sons, his old habits of doing things alone, and keeping his secrets. The three combined into the messy stewpot of instructions he left for Dean.
Just one more opinion on this incident. While John’s deal was for his sons in many ways, in one way I think it was just as selfish as Dean’s deal. John was tired. John was running. He could not handle the idea of killing Sam. He could not handle the idea of outliving Dean. It was too much, so he passed the baton to Dean. He gave up, rolled over and died. Hell was preferable to a world without his sons. See, he knew, he knew better than anyone, that Dean was the better man. He allowed himself this cowardice, knowing his son would finish what needed to be finished.