The Morning After
Depressing. Deeply disturbing. Defeating. Get the drift?
Supernatural’s 14.11 “Damaged Goods” was a superbly written story that seamlessly wove together Nick’s story of insanity with Dean’s resignation to the insane idea of burying himself alive, alone, at the bottom of the ocean for all eternity with an enraged archangel mentally and emotionally torturing him. That has to be the most horrifying scenario the show has ever conceived, which is probably a point of pride for this story’s writer, Davy Perez. Davy is Supernatural’s horror writer. Author of 12.04 “American Nightmare” (a mother torturing her daughter with the tacit complicity of the rest of the family), 13.11 “Breakdown” (Donna’s niece and eventually Sam are kidnapped by a sicko who sells human body parts online) and 14.04 “Mint Condition” (okay, that was fun but it was all about horror movies and the Hatchet Man), half of Davy’s episodes so far have been squarely based on horror scenarios. The fate Dean is planning for himself touches so many primal fears in humans, it is the quintessential horror.
If there was ever any doubt that the threads we track are intentional clues as to the direction of the season’s myth arc, the climactic revelation in “Damaged Goods” provided indisputable proof that the writers sew subtle foreshadowing of their plans into individual stories. We have been tracking mentions of water and drowning all year. Last week, the additional description of “deep down” was added to further refine the imagery. Now we know that Dean is planning to bury himself under water, at the bottom of a deep ocean, for all eternity.
Dean: It’s a Ma’lak box. Secured and warded. Once inside nothing gets out, not even an archangel. Especially an archangel.
Sam: Yeah, yeah, yeah, I’ve read about these, but no one’s ever — They’re impossible to build.
Dean: Yeah, well, not so much.
Sam: That’s your plan? You want to be buried alive?
Dean: Buried’s not safe enough. Plan is, pay a little hush money, charter a boat to take me out to the Pacific. Splash.
Escape would result in Dean’s death by drowning and his ultimate defeat in his battle against Michael. Staying alive would mean “drowning” under Michael’s possession dominance for all time, as Michael’s escape from Dean’s mental cage has been confirmed as inevitable by both Death and Dean.
Sam: You and Michael, trapped together — for eternity?
Sam: You do realize how insane this is, right?
Dean: It’s the only sane play I’ve got. Michael gets out, that’s it for this world. And he will get out.
Sam: Well, how do you know that for sure?
Dean: Because I do. Because I can feel him in my head. That door is giving. I can feel it giving.
Die defeated, allowing your arch-nemesis to destroy the world you dedicated your life to protect, or live in eternal torture at the hands of a vengeful archangel. Faced with the same choice, Sam chose eternal torture in a cage in Hell with Lucifer. As unimaginable as that is, somehow being trapped in a cage that is a sensory deprivation, confining coffin submerged in legions of black, crushing emptiness is worse.
Sam: But there has to be another way.
Dean: There’s not, okay? There… Sam, you’ve tried. Cas has tried. Jack. And I love you for trying. But none of it’s gonna work.
Sam: We don’t know that.
Dean: Yeah, we do.
Dean: She paid me a little visit. She said that there’s only one way that this ends right. And this is it — this, right here, this box. So she gave up the special recipe, and all I had to do was the work. It’s fate.
Sam: Since when do we believe in fate?
Dean: Now, Sam. Since now.
Congratulations show. You’ve succeeded in freaking us all out to a whole new level. Impressive for season 14. Dean’s story may parallel Sam’s (and to some extent Nick’s) never ending death match with an archangel, but the details have changed enough to command our rapt attention and emotional bondage. Of course Dean would accept such an unimaginable sacrifice. I think it’s safe to say that none of us can fathom being subjected to a fate where even death is not an option to escape indescribable horror and hopelessness.
Notably, there were no direct mentions of water anywhere in “Damaged Goods”. It was raining during one drive but no overt reminders of drowning. The absence of these hints made the climactic revelation of water’s ultimate purpose all the more surprising and powerful.
Sam: So you came out here to see Donna, to see Mom on some — some what? Some sick, secret farewell tour? You were gonna leave, and you weren’t even gonna tell me. Me. Do you realize how messed up that is, how unfair that is?
Dean: I didn’t have a choice! Sam, you’re the last person I could tell, the last person I could be around, ’cause you’re the only one that could’ve talked me out of it. And I won’t be talked out of it. I won’t. I’m doing this. Now, you can either let me do it alone or you could help me. But I’m doing this.
Sam: All right.
Shatter my heart into a thousand shards.
After all their progress in being more open with each other, Dean once again felt that he needed to shoulder this burden alone. He didn’t tell Cas or Jack. He totally evaded any focus on himself with Donna, despite reaching out to her as one of his closest friends.
Donna: Any more questions? Huh? Just wondering if you’ve run out of ways to ask me how I’m doing, so as to avoid me repaying the favor.
Her happiness at seeing him quickly turned to worry.
Then he couldn’t even open up to his mom, the person he chose to turn to for comfort in his last days as himself.
Her elation at enjoying an unexpected reunion with her son turned first to suspicion …
Mary: Whatever you’re going through, you can talk to me.
Dean: Everybody keeps asking how I am, and how I am is I don’t want to talk about it. Please.
… then to intense concern. But the person Dean avoided the most was Sam.
Mary: You know, if you wanted to make it a full reunion, we could call Sam over.
Dean: Yeah, you know, I was thinking I’d actually be a little greedy with my Mom time, if that’s cool.
Mary: Well, I just thought, you know, if you’re staying a few nights.
Dean: I don’t want Sam here.
Sam was crushed that Dean would keep such a secret from him, then leave without saying goodbye to his little brother. Cue Sam’s “we die together” speech! Thank you Sam for expressing the shock, betrayal and abandonment you were feeling, and confronting Dean about his actions (and thank you Davy for letting us hear what Sam’s feeling!).
Dean’s response was unexpected and equally heart breaking. He confessed that he couldn’t face Sam because he loves Sam too much, and that he can’t deny Sam anything he asks, even if the price of that ask is the end of humanity.
Sam and Dean have been here before. When Sam realized he’d have to sacrifice himself and eternally battle an archangel to save the world, he begged Dean to let him go, and Dean actually let it happen. He let Sam jump into Hell with Lucifer in tow – but then Dean never stopped looking for a way to rescue his brother. Three years later, when Sam was moments away from closing the gates of Hell with his death, Dean chose differently, prioritizing his need for Sam over humanity’s need for a demon-free existence. Two years after that, when Dean was faced with becoming a demon or finding a solution that might endanger the world, Sam repeatedly went against Dean’s wishes and chose Dean over the rest of humanity, justifying his choice by saying the consequences were uncertain.
Now that Dean is facing a new crisis, Sam once again ignored both Dean’s and Mary’s explicit requests to stand down. Instead, Sam listened to his instincts and drove through the night to get to his brother. Sam sensed that he might be the only thing standing between Dean and death once again. When he arrived, he found a Dean so convinced that self-sacrifice is the only way to save the world, a Dean that has given up hope of finding any other way (given Billie’s assurance to the contrary), that he is not only not asking for help, he is specifically telling Sam to NOT interfere. After their devastating conversation, the only glimmer of hope I can muster is that Sam is stubborn and yet again ignores his brother’s wishes. Just as when Sam secretly pursued a Mark of Cain solution, this situation is desperate enough to warrant Sam going against all his beliefs about open communication and keeping another secret from his brother.
Donna: You see, I ran the plates, and this van here? Belongs to an 80-year-old lady in Missoula.
Nick: Yeah. My Grammy, she lets me borrow it.
Donna: No. Grammy reported it stolen two weeks ago. And word has it you’re looking for a friend of mine, Mary Winchester.
Nick: No, I talked to the kid [Old/Young Thread] about renting a place for fishing.
Mary to Sam: Just give me some time. Let me talk to him, okay?
Nick: She had some e-mails on her cellphone talking about you and her family cabin.
Nick: Me and ‘Brax-y have to have a talk.
Mary: Well, that’s not gonna happen. To talk, a demon needs a host.
The emphasis on talking as a way to learn things sharply contrasted with Dean’s need to not talk about his situation. He sought out conversational situations with his closest family and friends, but he didn’t truly talk to them.
Mary: I saw, Dean. Donna’s shed. I know what you’ve been building, planning. And we are gonna talk about that. We are all three of us gonna talk about that. So if you don’t tell Sam, I will.
His was more a need for companionship on his journey toward his end. It took Mary’s snooping, then uncompromising ultimatum to Dean to get him to open up about his horrid plan.
Bodies in Confined Spaces
Mary: It’s fine. Just after everything that happened with his son, we needed a little space.
Sam: Yeah. Sorry, I’m just — I’m worried, you know? Ever since we locked Michael up, Dean’s been acting strange, and he just packed up and left, and then, uh … He hugged me.
Mary: That’s sweet.
Sam: Mom, we don’t hug. I mean, w-we do, but only if it’s literally the end of the world, you know?
Mary: Sam, he’ll be here soon. I’ll look after him. I’ll get to the bottom of this.
Sam: Yeah, all right. Maybe it’s like you said, you know? Maybe he just need some space, like Bobby.
Mary: Yeah. Well, and until we know for sure, we have to respect that.
Sam: Yeah, you’re right. Yeah, uh talk soon.
Shivers. Note all the hidden references to confined spaces, needing space and the bottom of things? Subtle portents of being in a small box at the bottom of Davy Jones’ locker?
Speaking of lockers, remember the heads staring back at Nick from inside locked lockers?
Abraxis was also confined inside a tiny box, locked down with sigils and Enochian magic.
Nick: You trapped him in a box. How’d you do it? Uh Tell me.
Mary: Okay, you’re right. I trapped him. We fought, and he was winning. So I put him in an Enochian puzzle box. He’s contained.
Like the Malak box, Mary’s box supposedly couldn’t be opened, until Nick ignored the puzzle and drilled a hole right though the “impenetrable, secure” container.
Abraxis: Nick? What are you doing walking and talking? I thought the Big Man had you on lock…. She locked me in a box, and I hold a grudge. Do her slow and bloody, then we’ll chat.
Since that box’s eternal security was thwarted, maybe Dean does end up in his box but Sam finds a way to bypass the warding and get him out?
So who or what was “damaged goods”? Obviously Nick, since he identified himself as broken.
Nick: I needed the truth, Sam. I needed revenge for my family. You would’ve done the same thing.
Sam: I’m sorry. I’m sorry I couldn’t help you. I’m sorry I didn’t know how.
Nick: It’s not about you, Sam. It’s never about you. You couldn’t fix me ’cause I don’t want to be fixed. I was never broken [a thread identified in 14.3 and 14.5].
Sam: Yeah, Nick, you are.
Nick’s confrontation with Abraxis revealed the truth for and about Nick. It turns out that Nick did not kill his own family, as many had wondered when he started his killing spree. The murder really was carried out by a demon to “prepare” Nick for possession by Lucifer. Nick was just a random, disposable life that was ruined by Lucifer’s selfish need for a vessel. Would Nick have pursued the mystery of his family’s deaths and killed all the conspirators in the cover up had he not been influenced by Satan for so many years? That’s a point worth discussing. He admitted to liking the thrill of the kill, but whether that was inside him all along or was left over from Lucifer’s will is an important consideration given Dean’s eventual separation from megalomaniac Michael. Sam seems to have survived Lucifer’s possession with all his own values intact. If anything, he is even more empathetic now as he can understand the horrors possessed humans faced.
Sam: It’s not about being dumb [Smart/Stupid thread], Dean. It’s called compassion. Look, what happened to Nick could’ve happened to me. It almost happened to me. You change one little thing in our past, and that was me. Lucifer wearing me to the prom. And besides, since when do we give up on people? Since when do we just cut people loose?
Dean: Well, maybe you need to learn, okay? ‘Cause when people are past the point of saving, maybe you need to learn to walk away.
First of all, hurray for Sam bringing up his ordeal with Lucifer!! Sam’s history is overlooked so often. Sam’s point of view was articulated several times in “damaged goods”, contributing significantly to its bromance attraction!
Next, Dean was surely talking just as much about himself as Nick. Like Nick, Dean sees himself as beyond saving. He’s justifying his decision to make Sam “walk away” with the logic that Sam is the one with the problem of being overly sympathetic. Sam’s lesson on compassion mirrors Castiel’s similar retort to Michael last week.
Castiel: You’re confusing loyalty and compassion with weakness.
Castiel gave us the counterpoint to Dean’s flawed thinking before we, or even Dean, knew he was going to be seeing people as dispassionately as Michael. I wonder how long compassion has been a point of study without us noticing it. Is the moral of the story that Dean should have more compassion for himself? Are Sam’s actions going to be justified as compassionate? Are we the audience being asked to have compassion for Sam and/or Dean, or even Nick?
“No Time” by The Guess Who, a classic, classic song that has long deserved to be featured on Supernatural and one of my all-time favorite songs, was the disturbing harbinger that Dean was out of time. As a thread we’ve tracked all year, there were again many references to numbers and time in this episode. There are still nine episodes left this season, so the clock is ticking for Dean, but we may or may not have to wait a while to see how this all resolves itself – without of course Dean dying or sacrificing himself.
Just as the 200th episode forced an early deadline on the Demon Dean plotline in season 10, the 300th episode is quickly approaching. Now just two episodes away (14.13 is the series’ 300th episode), I am deeply, sincerely, pleadingly hoping that all the happy spoilers that have been leaked about that episode are not just an illusion of a delirious, drowning Dean. His situation is so upsetting, I’ll gladly welcome at least a partial resolution that sets aside this box business by next week.
Dean: Dad comes home, and he is so mad.
That makes three weeks in a row that someone is described as mad or not mad. Could it be a veiled reference to insanity, or is a new, rather mysterious thread starting?
There were also a few references to recipes in this episode. Dean requested then made his mom’s special recipe, and Billie gave Dean the “recipe” to make the Malak box. Could “recipe” be suggesting a spell is the solution?
“Damaged Goods” was suspenseful and dramatic, full of exceptionally powerful broments and intense emotional trauma… and I won’t watch it again for a long time – if ever. I’ve seen so many end-of-times scenarios on this show. So many goodbye hugs and tears of farewell, but this one felt different. Until I know how this all works out, I can’t endure the pain that both Sam and Dean are feeling right now.
Of course Sam will be at Dean’s side as he faces this fate…but I’m desperately counting on the fact that, of course, Sam won’t let it happen. Until we know for sure,
Threads is all about discussion! Let me know what you think of the threads I found and the questions I’ve asked, then add your own threads, questions and observations below!
Transcript details courtesy of https://www.springfieldspringfield.co.uk/
You can catch up on my prior Threads articles for season 14, and all my other reviews and articles since season 8, by going to my Writer Page!