Building upon the willing hero theme that “LARP and the Real Girl” examined, “As Time Goes By” delves into that of legacy. Sam and Dean have inherited a great hunting legacy from their maternal side, the Campbells. They have descended from a long lineage of hunters that have faced the supernatural throughout the centuries. Now they learn about the legacy their paternal side, the Winchesters, has left them—one that was hidden from even their father, John.
Legacy. It is a word with weight. Many spend their lives attempting to define what theirs will be. Legacies are our way of telling the world “Hey! I was here! Remember me!” Kings build monuments, wage wars, and shape culture to stand as a testament that they reigned. People build up institutions or causes, passing them from parent to child. The mark one leaves upon the world is the legacy that outlives us all. In many ways, that legacy is found in our children—as it is here. Henry Winchester sums it up best, “You’re also Winchesters. As long as we’re alive, there’s always hope.”
Sam says, “I get it now, what Cupid said about Heaven busting ass to get Mom and Dad together. Winchesters and the Campbells ““ the brains and the brawn.”
This may be true for the angels and their quest to have Sam and Dean enact the Apocalypse as the key vessels, but here it takes on new meaning, better meaning.
Sam and Dean each embody the brains and the brawn of their dual inheritances. They are two halves of one whole—-and it is for this reason that they succeed as the “elite” hunter duo in the Supernatural world.
Their Campbell bloodline runs deep, as Samuel says, “You know you had ancestors hacking the heads off vamps on the Mayflower.”
Hunting has been their experience with the supernatural world. It is how they interact with it, how they fight back against its evils, and how they save the world. Sam and Dean have been trained to do it, have given of themselves in mind, body, and soul more than once, and have committed to do so again. Knowing the weapons, the spells, and the means to destroy a supernatural threat are their goals. If it threatens or kills humans, Sam and Dean have vowed to kill it.
But what about their Winchester bloodline? Their father raised them to hunt—but is that all there is? We learn through their grandfather, Henry, that this might not be the case. He is aware of the supernatural—evidenced by his time travel—but he is no hunter. In fact, he abhors hunting.
Henry Winchester is a Man of Letters—a scholar of the supernatural. They do not study demons, monsters, angels, and other supernatural elements simply to learn how to stop them. They try to do more with that knowledge. Men of Letters catalog and study them instead, building libraries of information. They are the brains to the hunters brawn, trying to do something that a hunter in the heat of battle cannot afford to do. Henry says, “We’re preceptors, beholders, chroniclers of all that which man does not understand.”
Men of Letters attempt to understand what the supernatural is—how it is—why it is—rather than seeing them as simply something to kill. It is a startling difference to the way a hunter views the supernatural world. The saying is that we fear that which we do not understand—and while a hunter chooses to eliminate the source of that fear by learning its weakness and how to kill it—a Man of Letters has chosen to dispel that with the pursuit of knowledge.
It is a noble cause—and yet none of these Men of Letters seem to have survived to the present to continue the work.
Sam and Dean each embody that of their hunter and Men of Letters ancestry in various ways.
Sam is more scholarly than Dean, choosing to research and analyze their current hunt. He is the one that investigates the lore, putting the facts together to form a clear picture. Even so, Sam is focused solely on the weakness of their target, trying to decipher what they can do to stop it. They are forearmed in their fights with this information. Each encounter with a different supernatural being builds upon the knowledge that Sam uncovers—and while it is not quite the style of the Men of Letters mentioned by Henry, it is, in Sam’s way, attempt to know what he does not understand.
Dean prefers often to take direct action. He tends to be, as Henry bluntly states, “shoot-first-and-don’t-bother-to-ask-questions-later,” more concerned with stopping the supernatural threat than learning why it exists or how it exists. Dean doesn’t care as much to the why. He only wants to know the weakness, the how to kill it and move on to the next threat to innocent people. Dean has always—Benny aside—seen much more in black and white terms. A supernatural creature is bound to kill a human, so therefore eliminating its existence stops it from hurting humans in the future. Hunting is how Dean understands the realm of the supernatural—it is how he moves through it and survives its darker sides.
And yet, each brother exhibits both that of the hunter and the Man of Letters.
Sam is a competent fighter, strong, agile, and skilled with many weapons. He is capable of protecting himself and others with the skill set of an elite hunter, versed in the methods that kill a supernatural threat. Sam does not shy from this. He embraces it often, taking the hit full force or risking his life to help others escape. Sam knows how to listen to his finely tuned hunter instincts. He is as much Campbell as he is Winchester in this way.
Dean, too, is not all brawn. He may often shoot first, but he is smart and agile minded—and not just in the heat of battle. It is Dean, after all, that hogs Samuel Colt’s journal, looking for any way to find the Phoenix. It is Dean that takes the initiative to pack the ash into the bullets—and add one to his whiskey so to poison the Mother of All. Dean can piece puzzles together—can admire them—as he admired John’s ability to piece the missing couples and its pattern in “Scarecrow.” Dean knows that the more he knows about his enemy the more likely he can stop it.
In fact, he calls Henry out on his ignorance about Abaddon, bluntly asking, “Let me get this straight. You traveled through time to protect something that does you don’t know what from a demon that you know nothing about?”
It would seem that the two schools of thought really aren’t that different after all. Men of Letters focus on the “legacy” of passing down their knowledge to the next generation, to making sure that it is enshrined for the ages, so that others may carry this knowledge and expand upon it. They are building the vast library of the supernatural in isolation away from it—when possible. Hunters, meanwhile, are trying to do much of the same. Their methods are different, more trial by error than the Men of Letters, but the end result is the same—know more than before you started.
No symbol embodies that more than John’s journal. His is a hunters tome, as Dean says, “This book. This is dad”™s single, most valuable possession. Everything he knows about every evil thing is in here, and he”™s passed it on to us. I think he wants us to pick up where he left off, you know, saving people, hunting things. The family business.”
But the small monogram of HW shows that it was meant to be a Man of Letters journal, cataloging everything supernatural for future study.
Both Men of Letters and hunters journal, both pass down their legacies of knowledge, both try desperately to understand a world in which the supernatural exists.
It is why Sam and Dean are truly these dual legacies brought to fruition—and it is why they often fail when apart. They compliment one another. Sam learns about their hunt, Dean puts together a plan to put that gained knowledge to use. They know how to work together with practiced ease—even when they are at odds outside their hunt—as we saw in “Torn and Frayed.” And they know when they must switch roles to come at a hunt from a new angle. They know how to read one another, take their two very different views of the supernatural world, and marry them together, allowing them to become a unified force.
Sam and Dean also epitomize another legacy—that of family. They may have been born into the family business of “hunting things, saving people,” but it is their steadfastness to family that makes their dual legacies special. They value family and its bonds. It is what makes them the “elite” of the hunting world. Seen at times as their biggest weakness, it is actually their greatest strength. It is family that gives them the courage, drive, and resolve to stand up to the worst the supernatural realm can dish out. It is family that makes it all worth it.
Throughout the series we have seen choosing family be a central pillar, a foundation block, the pivotal theme underneath the ghosts, ghoulies, demons, and monsters. It is the glue that holds the story together, allowing it to transcend time and time again. We’ve seen this choice come in small packages and in grand gestures. Sam chooses to stay with Dean at the end of “Scarecrow” telling him, “You and me. We”™re all that”™s left. So, if we”™re gonna see this through, we”™re gonna do it together.” John sells his soul in order that Dean may live. Dean chooses to stay with Sam in “Croatoan,” even if it may forfeit his life. Bobby adopts Sam and Dean as his own, stating it clearly, “family don’t end in blood, boy.” Even Soulless Sam, despite his inability to feel, chooses Dean in “Caged Heat” instead of his sheer survival.
Most recently, we see Sam and Dean recommit to the family business—and to each other as family—in “Torn and Frayed.” Each had a chance to walk away, each had a choice to make, and they chose to embrace that legacy of hunting—and of family—by standing together.
In “As Time Goes By” we see that family bond tug once again on them—and what should have been a moment of weakness and defeat turn into a moment of bittersweet triumph.
Abaddon, the demon after Henry, has captured Sam and is holding him ransom for the box their grandfather possesses. She holds the cards, calls the shots, and has the upper hand. If Dean does not give into her demands, she will kill Sam. It is a desperate situation—and as his usual weapons fail to kill this particular demon, Dean must come up with a new tactic.
The bait and switch is put into place, making it seem that Dean is simply going to handover Henry, also his blood, in exchange for Sam’s life. They arrive, finding Sam held hostage by the demon. Upon seeing that Henry is with Dean, she allows Sam to rejoin his brother, but Henry must now go to her and hand over the box.
It is a trick. He may have paid a hefty price for getting close to Abaddon, but he is armed. He fires a bullet under her chin. It is no ordinary bullet, one carved with a devil’s trap. She laughs it off at first until she realizes she cannot take his memories as her own or move from her spot. She will not get what she wanted—and it is in their combined efforts that they have stopped her from doing so.
Dean may have looked like he was willing to sell Henry out, but Henry chose to stand up to Abaddon, to take the brunt of her attack. He may have abhorred hunters, but it is his single act of bravery here that allows him to become one albeit briefly. It is an indication of what Sam and Dean have done time and time again. For every time they have chosen to walk away from the life, for every time they have tried their hand at normalcy, for every time they have waged war against a “destiny”—be it being Azazel’s special child or Michael’s vessel or simply the life itself—the Winchesters have always chosen one thing above the rest: they choose family.
And really, isn’t that the best legacy of all?
Best Lines of the Week:
Henry: 2013 ““ my god. Guess the Mayans were wrong.
Dean: Dudes time-traveling through motel room closets, that”™s what we”™ve come to?
Dean: I’m a little rusty on my boy bands. Men of what?
Sam: Wow, it’s hard to believe Dad was ever scared of anything.
Alaina Huffman breathes life into Abaddon. Her demeanor before the initiation is demure and apprehensive, masking her character’s true nature well. Huffman appears shy, looking to McKinney’s Henry for reassurance. After the attack on the Men of Letters, Huffman transforms from shy Josie into the terrifying Abaddon. She makes the demon frightening and sinister—all in her tight performance. Huffman shows how unfazed Abaddon is by the demon killing knife in her laughter and amused tone of voice. She is subtle in her humor, but we can’t help but sense that she is having fun with this character. It grants Abaddon some charisma, making her a formidable opponent.
Gil McKinney makes Henry Winchester real. He plays the fish out of water well, showing just how Henry doesn’t fit in the present—or that of the hunter’s world. He gives us a character nonplussed and unimpressed with hunters and the life, showing Henry’s contempt in voice and body language. By the end, we see in his act of bravery the transformation from contempt into admiration—as he takes slow but resolved steps towards Abaddon. McKinney puts it all in Henry’s gestures, making sure that each movement moves the story forward, communicating Henry’s growth from start to finish. McKinney shows Henry’s sorrow at realizing he has abandoned his son, John, with a quiet statement, “I’m beginning to gather I don’t make it back from this time, do I?” It is heartbreaking and devastating, all while being subtle. He doesn’t have to cry or scream this line. By saying it so quietly with such finality makes it more powerful, making us realize how tragic his story is.
Jensen Ackles puts the hard exterior mask of Dean on in this episode well. He is cautious and suspicious at every turn. Ackles makes sure the audience knows Dean is uncomfortable with this situation, putting it all in his facial expressions and tight body language. He keeps his stance battle ready throughout, ready to confront Henry or catch him in a lie. Ackles gives us a Dean that does not see this sudden appearance as a good thing. He puts it all in the line when he says bluntly, “Well, this has been touching. How about we figure out how to clean up your mess, huh?” As the episode progresses and he switches to saving Sam mode, we see Ackles start to soften towards Henry, all while being led to believe that he’s coldly sacrificing his grandfather. Dean may not have trusted this stranger, but by episode end he sees him as family, even going as far as to say, “No, you did it. For a bookworm, that wasn’t bad, Henry.” Ackles puts a warmth into his voice, making the simple line show us Dean’s change from suspicious to accepting.
Jared Padalecki shows us a Sam standing with his brother upon Henry’s sudden arrival, just as angry and just as suspicious. It isn’t until Henry’s identity is revealed that we see Padalecki make Sam a foil to Dean. He wants to trust and becomes gentler with their grandfather. It is in Padalecki’s delivery and his performance that Sam becomes a beacon of hope, it is his body language that breathes life into Sam’s trusting nature. Captured in his softer voice and sympathetic facial expressions, Sam tries to relax Henry so that he and Dean—who are more alike than either will probably admit—don’t butt heads. It is an odd situation for Sam, as he was the one that often butted heads with their father, John, putting Dean in the middle. Here, we see Padalecki show how Sam must navigate this delicate balance. He also shows Sam’s hope. We’ve seen Sam struggle frequently with the life and his choice to stay a hunter, and while Dean is the one expressing, “All I see in our family tree is a whole lot of dead,” it is Sam that expresses the desire to keep going. He says quietly, “A chance we’ve got to take, I guess. I mean, we are legacies, right?”
And now the Winchesters get to face off against Nazis—as long as no one’s face melts off, please?