Dean’s character progression, much like the past two seasons, took a really intriguing turn in season five. Season three was Dean’s season of self actualization. Season four was all about his character test. Season five too had plenty of tests, but for Dean it all ended up being about survival. Not just his though. So much more was at stake than his and Sam’s safety. He had to step up and save the world. By the end he suceeded against impossible odds but it cost him everything. He became exactly what he didn’t want to be, the last man standing. He reluctantly went into a new life mired with huge survivor’s guilt, shattered faith, and a lost sense of purpose. Once again, Rufus Turner’s “There ain’t no happy ending” rings prophetic for poor Dean.
I’ve read a lot of complaints where the promise of Dean’s character direction at the end of season four went nowhere is season five. I don’t see that to be the case at all. Dean’s character did go through some big shifts in season five, sometimes perplexing shifts. However, I think there was consistency with season four as well as the prior seasons in the direction he took. Sure he was more vulnerable this time, but considering how much has been thrown at him becoming worn down by it all was understandable. He came out of it all the tragic hero, which was a bit better than Sam’s outcome, the martyred hero. Or, maybe not. Dean would have traded places in an instant.
As I left off in my season four analysis, Dean’s major shortfall and biggest hanging issue was his relationship with Sam. He fought the good fight against Zachariah and convinced Castiel to fall from grace for doing the right thing, but his handling of the Sam situation led to disaster. Lucifer broke free. So that’s how he started season five. He had to take on the Devil and try to rebuild his broken relationship with his brother. Let’s look at the key episodes and see how Dean progressed from that point.
Sympathy For The Devil
Dean tried, he oh so tried. Lucifer was free, Castiel was dead, he was wanted by angels, and he tried to derive a plan out of a hopeless situation while at the same time having lost complete faith in Sam. After all, despite his intentions, Sam did the unthinkable. He betrayed him for a demon. Dean tried to see past it and focus on task but the hurt was too deep and the betrayal too raw. He couldn’t forgive. Despite all that emotional turmoil though, Dean drew the line in the sand that defined the battleground of the season. He wouldn’t be a vessel. He’d fight his way. He just didn’t believe that Sam had his back. This all kicked off his feelings of isolation that grew throughout the season.
Good God Y’all
Dean saw the hard reality, his life’s mission had to change. Sam no longer could be his main priority. Despite all the mistrust and the hurt protecting Sam at this point was instinctive. It was what he wanted to do, but the world needed him more and this great burden from here until “Point of No Return” ate away at him slowly. When Sam suggested they part at the end Dean agreed without a fight. He made the decision with his head instead of his heart. Sam leaving meant one big burden off of him, freeing him to focus on the world alone. Yeah, reality caught up later in a hard way.
Free To Be You and Me
Dean was still pretty delusional here. The burden of Sam may have been gone, but the emptiness of being alone became the issue. He tried to convince Castiel he didn’t need Sam but who was that speech exactly for? I didn’t buy it. I doubt Cas did either.
Dean saw a lot of crap in this one. Was the future real or fabricated by Zachariah? I’m going for the “what if ” reality. What if Dean and Sam stayed apart? Sam did eventually say yes to Lucifer for reasons we found out were purely strategic, so we could assume the same reason happened in this reality. So, what went different in this scenario? Easy, when Dean chose the world over his family he let the Impala rot and he let his morals slide. Without the Impala there to trigger the memories, without that strong brotherly bond, Sam failed in this reality in his plan to overtake Lucifer. In other words, neither could take on the world alone.
So, what made Dean see the light? What made him realize that he and Sam could only be stronger together? I can only assume seeing Sam become Lucifer did the trick and I’m sure he didn’t like his future self either. He had to go the other way. He didn’t take Sam in with open arms though and an “all is forgiven” attitude. There was still some reluctance there but at least he followed his gut instinct. The pain over Sam’s betrayal was still too raw though. So, enter the bittersweet reunion.
No, he didn’t forgive Sam. He put his brother through the ringer instead. Many thought his actions were out of character but I thought they made perfect sense. He knew that he must stick with Sam but there was still that lingering resentment. In the end he got it out of his system and took Sam up on his request to meet him halfway. It was a good step forward that lasted about one episode.
The Curious Case of Dean Winchester
There was way more to Dean than meets the eye in this one. Dean essentially proved that older is not wiser. He and Bobby both had tremendous blinders on when it came to Sam and both were too caught up in their own sorry predicaments. Neither could fathom that Sam was a crafty poker player that could have gotten them out of this the honest way. Both instead stayed overprotective of the “snot nosed kid.” In Dean’s case though, his blinders extended beyond Sam. He took on the burden of Bobby’s welfare too and tried to fix this mess by himself. This contributed to that long spiral downward. He had faith in no one but himself, even when given the limitations of being an eighty year old man. He may have convinced Bobby he wasn’t useless, but he still didn’t have much faith in Sam and only added to his growing internal pressure.
The Real Ghostbusters
This ended up being a refreshing perspective for Dean, his life isn’t all that bad. Too bad that lesson that went nowhere. Still, it was nice for Dean to see the other side for once, wasn’t it?
Abandon All Hope
If any episode drilled a nail deep into that Dean Winchester fractured psyche hard it was this one. The title was meant for no one but Dean. His self imposed burdens took their toll and the losses of Ellen and Jo were a major turning point for him. A turn downward. Losing people to Dean has always been hard but he couldn’t take losing friends anymore. Especially people he always considered more than friends, more like family. His failure to kill Lucifer on top of Jo and Ellen’s demise made it even worse because their deaths were for nothing. To Dean, there’s nothing worse. This outcome will haunt him for a lifetime.
The Dean Winchester mind bender. It was a very rare glimpse at what goes on inside that noggin and it was not pretty. We had to wonder how the boy could even function. He admitted to not sleeping much, that he drinks way too much and has never been involved in a long term relationship (except for the glaringly obvious choice, but I assume the question was about an intimate relationship). Sam insisted that they take the job because of Dean’s depression over Ellen and Jo, showing us his already fragile state. So when the crazy spell started working, Dean’s inner frailties surfaced in a stunning way. His single handed burden now involved saving all six billion people on the planet. That intense internal pressure surfaced, that inner fear that he can’t save Sam, he can’t save the world, he can’t save himself. It all was going to burn and it was his fault. Once he got free of the spell, he took all that anxiety and did the worst possible thing. He buried it. Then he ordered Sam to do the same. Oh yeah, it came back to bite him.