Retro Open Supernatural Couch – In My Time of Dying
Lessons in Disrupting the Natural Balance
Today I look back at one of the most painful episodes of our beloved show. Before you ask – yes, I might occasionally be a masochist par excellence. Today is one of those days, I reckon, when I snuggle onto my cosy couch and enjoy a Winchester ache fest. Would you like to join me, kind readers?
The second season opener, In My Time of Dying, brought new terrors to the Winchester clan and fed the silently burning fire of guilt within both brothers.
With the opening sequence and Ted Nugent’s Stranglehold I’m transported back to a time both brothers were (or rather looked) considerably younger. And more innocent in terms of traumatic, ugly moments”¦ But, as we well know, it hasn’t remained so.
Sometimes I am amazed, again and again, at the chains these men have been dragging on the frozen ground of their memories, often imprisoned behind the bars of their unforgiving fates in this episode, there won’t be a key to that dungeon”¦
Allow yourselves to be brought back to the end of Season One, kind readers, and remember the terrible car crash, the cliff-hanger that made many of us (including yours truly) biting our nails to see what had happened and who survived. With the show just finding its course and not yet safe in the saddle of TV-land, anything was possible”¦
The Impala is a wreck. What a sad picture. In the dark, its black metal still shines, but the night mercifully veils the car’s wounds – and those of its passengers. All, all are injured. No one is moving. Only Sam slowly comes around, immediately alert, the magic colt cocked. And the demon who actually believes Sam would not shoot him, probably has never encountered a man of his determination. But at this point, assuming his family might be dead, I believe Sam would not care about saving a bullet. He would do anything to protect what’s left of his family, if that were only their bodies. Finally, the demon runs – at this point surely the smartest decision of its pitiable existence – leaving the miserable truck driver to realize what happened. I can’t help it – I feel so sorry for this poor, innocent man. We will never learn how he fared after this horrific accident, but I’d say it’s safe to assume that he needed help afterwards. And perhaps some months of therapy.
“Dad? Dad”¦?” Sam tries to look to the back seat. “Dean? Dean!!!”
There is no answer. Instead it’s (eventually) daylight. I reckon the truck driver finally made it to a phone and called emergency services. Our poor Winchesters had to remain stuck in the car for hours, till help finally arrived.
“Tell me if they’re okay!… Are they even alive?” Oh, Sammy”¦
Oh, God, we don’t know. The moment Dean wakes up, my heart skips a beat (Yes! He’s alive!), but an instant later I grasp that he wouldn’t be capable of walking around the way he does after having been found in a car crash, unresponsive and severely wounded. Dean, apparently, doesn’t think of that, yet, that is.
On the same floor as pathology (oops), Dean begins looking for Sam and John – and realizes, together with us, that something is very wrong. There’s panic in his face as he begins searching more frantically – ending up finding himself, intubated, machines monitoring his vital signs. Supernatural’s version of ER strikes me as creepy and cruel”¦
Dean just stands there, a while, watching his body and slowly comprehending that he actually emerged from the accident as some kind of spirit. But his face lights up the moment a worried Sam enters the room. Dean is overjoyed that his baby brother is alive, but also struck heavily by Sam’s almost inconsolable demeanour.
“Oh, no”, Sammy whispers, and I silently watch his scarred face, the cuts and bruises, and the blood on his jacket. His face devoid of the addictive life we often find there”¦ he looks lost, his lovely head bent low, fear creeping into his eyes, yet steeling himself for enduring this moment.
“Man, tell me you can hear me”¦ how’s dad? Is he okay? Come on, you’re the psychic! Give me some ghost whispering or something!”
“Your father’s awake“, the doctor interrupts. “You can go see him, if you like.”
Dean exclaims: “Oh, thank God!”
“Doc, what about my brother?” Sam’s foremost concern is the one he feels closest to.
“Well, he’s sustained serious injuries. Blood loss, contusions to his liver and kidney.” How typically sober this report comes out of the doc’s mouth. And I wonder how many of these injuries were a result of the accident and what was damaged by Yellow-Eyes while he tortured Dean in the previous episode. He lost a significant amount of blood there, already. “But it’s the head trauma I’m worried about. There’s early signs of cerebral oedema.”
“What can we do?”
“Well, we won’t know his full condition until he wakes up. If”¦ he wakes up.”
Another punch to Sam’s belly. “If?”
Dean, in the mist of spirit world, protests, but is not heard.
“I have to be honest. Most people with this degree of injury wouldn’t have survived this long. He’s fighting very hard (yes, that’s Dean!). But you need to have realistic expectations, son.”
“Come on, Sam”, Dean goes on, determined, “go find some hoodoo priest, lay some mojo on me! I’ll be fine!”
He doesn’t know yet, and even Sam barely realizes, that Dean’s words manifest in Sam’s mind as ideas. He doesn’t know, yet. As his dad – who probably never looked more attractive – gives him the insurance card of Elroy McGillicuddy (hm”¦ is John secretly a fan of I Love Lucy? (Mcgillicuddy was her name) Or is he in love with Ireland or a secret member of New Zealand’s Mcgillicuddy Highland Army? Sorry”¦ that name was ringing a few bells in my head!), father and son slowly drift into another heavy fight”¦
Sam is shaken, frightened, desperate not to lose his brother and naturally reacts to Johns questions and remarks like a wounded animal driven into a corner – he lashes out. “Your son is dying, and you worry about the colt?!” His voice is coloured with contempt. Not for the first time he sees his father through a glass darkly.
And how could he not in this moment. Not only is Sam startled because of Dean’s severe condition, he also battles inner demons of his own – he hasn’t had time, yet, to digest what Yellow-Eyes said to him (in his father’s body, which was even more appalling)”¦ that he had plans for him, and children like him”¦. And he shot his father. It’s a bit much for any young man.
As John sends him on an errand – to have Bobby get him some magic ingredients, among them Oil of Abramelin, he will have time enough to think. Hm”¦ Oil of Abramelin”¦ interesting! I would like to know the ritual John is going to perform in detail. This oil is well-known in the occult world, deriving from an ancient Jewish anointing oil, a blend of various oils (e.g. myrrh, cinnamon, calamus) which Alistair Crowley referred to as Oil of Aspiration. Effective to cast love spells. But calling a demon? I can’t help it, I’m intrigued.
Not for long, though, since I am captured by Dean’s doubting expression, sensing that his father is not entirely speaking the truth”¦ Already planning to summon the demon, John blatantly lied to his younger son’s face. So, at this very moment, I’m inclined to agree with Sam to some degree – John isn’t sufficiently showing concern for his eldest son, but plotting against their enemy. The Winchester obsession with revenge in action, again.
As Sam makes it clear to Bobby that they need to save the Impala, he’s actually speaking of his severely injured brother. “If there’s only one working part, that’s enough! We’re not just giving up on”¦” It’s a wonderfully played out scene. Sam can’t do much to help Dean right now, but he can at least try to save his car, thereby symbolically saving his brother – and his own hope that is on the brink of being taken from him. But then, quickly, his attention is drawn to his father’s enigmatic plans, as he makes Bobby explain to him what is going on. A storm is gathering.
Not only is some thunder coming from Sam’s building rage, but also a twister of despair in Dean’s soul, as he watches John sitting by his bed, seemingly doing nothing.
“Come on, dad, you gotta help me! I gotta get better, I gotta get back in there”¦ You haven’t called a soul for help! You haven’t even tried! Aren’t you gonna do anything? Aren’t you even gonna say anything? I have done everything you’ve ever asked me. Everything! I’ve given everything I’ve ever had! Are you just gonna sit there and you’re gonna watch me die? What the hell kind of father are you?!”
This is painful. Oh God. Dean used to be the one who had faith in John no matter what. And this faith is being shaken now in a manner that must tear a terrible hole in Dean’s soul. He is forced to doubt the man he has put on a pedestal as the best man he has ever known. The man whose honour he would have defended against anyone. The man he trusted and looked up to. And loved unconditionally. One can only imagine how utterly betrayed Dean must feel at this moment.
This episode, in many ways, works wonderfully in reverse. When I watched this scene for the first time, I cursed John’s passivity and was just as angry as Sam and Dean over his Machiavellian character traits. But watching it again after finding out what John was truly planning and the sacrifice he made, it softened my idea of this man. He made many mistakes as a father, God knows, but to give your life for your child”¦ There can’t be greater love.
For a blessed moment Dean is distracted from his angry despair aimed at his father and figured out that a spirit must be haunting the hospital, just in time to see Sam come back. Oh, Sammy”¦ again I’m amazed at how similar Sam’s reactions sometimes are to mine. When I get really mad, I tend to become very, very quiet, too. At first.
Of course Sam found out what John actually asked him to get. He just doesn’t know the reasons, yet.
“You’re planning to bringing the demon here, aren’t you, having some stupid macho show down.”
“I have a plan, Sam.”
“That’s exactly my point: Dean is dying, and you have a plan! You know what, you care more about killing this demon than you do about saving your own son!”
“Do not tell me how I feel!” Finally. Some emotion from John. “I am doing this for Dean!”
“How?! How’s revenge gonna help him?” This is a painful, yet clear example of how Sam’s own wish for revenge clouds his mind and makes him assume that it’s all about revenge. He’s not entirely wrong, alas, he misses one important factor – John’s attempt to save Dean. In his own way.
“You’re not thinking about anybody but yourself, it’s the same selfish obsession!”
“You know what? I thought it was your obsession, too! This demon killed your mother, killed your girlfriend. You begged me to be part of this hunt! Now if you killed that damned thing when you had a chance, none of this would have happened!”
“It was possessing you, dad, I would have killed you, too!”
“Yeah, and your brother would be awake right now!”
“Go to hell.”
Oh, dear. That’s great, John. Put it all on Sam’s shoulders. That’s really fair. Have you any idea what it would have meant for your son to kill his own father? Even asking that of him was too much. If you were so keen to kill the demon, you should have grabbed the colt the short moment you took back control and done it yourself. And now you’re blaming Sam for Dean’s condition? I wish I could slap you, John Winchester!
Dean, trying desperately to make them stop, full-on swayzes a glass. And, finally, they stop butting their heads. They know something is going on. Something utterly horrific – Dean coded. Asystole, cardiac arrest. A team of doctor and nurses is trying to get him back by shocking him. As Sam watches helplessly with his biggest fear somewhat manifesting as reality, Dean fights back the spirit that appears over his battered body.
As Dean’s heart is back in sinus rhythm, Sam begins to know that he heard Dean’s voice. It will result in him bringing a quija board.
But first Dean meets Tessa, seemingly another spirit trapped in a strange in-between stadium. Surprisingly, Tessa is dealing very well with the situation. She offers that the idea of fate helps her deal, while this triggers a natural Winchester reaction: “Well, that’s crap. You have a choice. You can roll over and die or you can keep fighting.“ Of course. Dean doesn’t believe in some kind of higher order that decides when your time is up. At this point, he even denies himself the idea that there might be God watching. Unfortunately, in the future he will be proven wrong in the worst possible and most agonizing way.
“You’re gonna make fun of me for this, but there’s one way we can talk,“ Sam begins, as he enters Dean’s room, taking his mystical talking board out of a paper bag.
“Oh, you gotta be kiddin’ me!”
No, Dean, dear, he’s not. This time Sam is dead serious. And the whole thing works! Dean is able to inform his brother about the reaping that’s going on in the hospital, knowing that “if it’s here naturally, there’s no way to stop it.” Meaning that Dean actually could die”¦ “I’m screwed, Sam.”
This is a great scene altogether. And it’s not easy to act. To interact and at the same time to not interact. Both do a wonderful job here, brilliant young actors!
The Winchester stubbornness is of capital help here. Sam is not willing to accept that the reaper is after Dean and simply leave that be. “Dad will know what to do.” Unfortunately, dad wandered off, preparing a summoning ritual in the boiler room, despite his promise to Sam not to hunt the demon until they knew that Dean would be better.
But Sam doesn’t linger, grabs dad’s journal and rushes back to Dean’s room, going through the pages to find something useful.
“Thanks for not giving up on me, Sammy.” I can only assume how deeply touched Dean must feel at this moment. He believes that the one man Dean devoted his whole life to abandoned him, his dad, and the brother with whom Dean had been at odds for quite a while is here, fighting for his life. If Dean ever had any doubts about Sam’s determination to be a family again, this was proof. And relief, I’d say.
Which doesn’t last long. Dean truly finds valuable information in the journal. And immediately he deduces who Tessa really is. Elementary, Watson! “You’re much prettier than the last reaper I met.”
She, being sympathetic to the extent a reaper can be, tries so console Dean. “Death is nothing to fear.” She’s right, to my experience. We don’t have to fear it. But that doesn’t mean that we should simply accept it. “It’s your time to go, Dean. You’re living on borrowed time, already.” To hear that will much later make Dean think hard about how he was able to recover. With a body dying, a miracle was not to be expected. Certainly not within the Dean-Winchester-belief-system. Only supernatural powers could change that. And he will soon and excruciatingly discover which one that was. Oh, Dean”¦