The Morning After
Emotional masterpiece. Totally wrecked me. Blown away. These were the types of reactions expressed by viewers after seeing Meredith Glynn’s “Remembering Dean”. It was a very emotional hour for most of the Supernatural family. Fans were left in puddles of empathy after witnessing Dean and Sam’s pain - Dean from losing himself to the ravages of a fading existence, and Sam from losing his brother one memory at a time. The power of the episode was once again due to the unbelievable performances of Jensen and Jared.
They poured everything they had into delivering deep, sincere, sensitive portrayals of the helplessness and tragedy of a fate being endured by far too many people. Without naming it as such, this show was of course a depiction of Alzheimer’s disease, and the slow loss of oneself and one’s loved ones to nothingness.
Honestly, this story needed two hours to do it justice. The enormity of this theme is daunting. I would have liked more than just a few minutes to adjust to Dean going from a fierce, strategic, feared warrior to an innocent child who giggled at Scooby Doo. Sam also transformed from a hunting partner chastising a drunken binge to a terrified little brother in literally three scenes.
Don’t get me wrong – both actors were able to carry it off, and I have immense respect for Meredith’s bravery in tackling this topic. The story and script were commanding. It’s just that I, as a viewer, wasn’t able to take this journey this quickly. I loved the show, but not in the same way as many others.
I enjoyed Dean’s innocence. I reveled in the episode’s humor. I was moved by yet another character study, this time of Rowena and Dean. I absorbed this episode on a completely different level than most. To me it was the fun of “Dog Dean Afternoon” or “Yellow Fever”. Please don’t think I’m being callous or making fun of dementia patients. On the contrary, I saw Dean not for what he lost from his past or what he would be in the future but for what he was in that moment.
For example, when Dean still had his memory, he dismissed Rowena’s usefulness:
C’mon man. Rowena? I mean…
Within a few hours, though, when his mind had slipped a bit, Dean was able to compliment Rowena on her beauty because his eyes didn’t see her past mistakes.
Dean: Your hair. It’s all so bouncy!
Rowena: Well, thank you! Do we have to fix him?
Rowena: Samuel. [Loved that she called him Samuel, like a mom calling out her son. “I have a feeling you’ll come to thank me.” Moms always know the right thing to do. ]
The next day, when Dean remembered nothing of her, Dean didn’t judge her for the totality of her life’s regrets and misdeeds. She herself admitted that she had done “horrible things” and was questioning the direction of her life. Instead, he was able to offer her the compassion of a stranger just meeting her for the first time.
To highlight Dean’s non-judgmental acceptance of Rowena, Sam was particularly harsh, even mean, to her. I bristled at his constant put-downs:
Rowena: How is he (in a tone that made me believe she sincerely was worried)?
Sam: Like you care.
Rowena: We need to find that grimoire.
Sam: Of course... Of course. That’s your angle isn’t it? Oh, come on Rowena! A powerful spell book shows up and all of a sudden you’re here to help? Altruism isn’t exactly your style.
Rowena: True. Also, it never hurts to have a Winchester owe you one….
Sam: Gideon Loghlin’s address was in his account’s file. If the book is there, I’ll find it.
Rowena: Of course you’ll need me there to help you.
Sam: No, no. You’re staying here with Dean.
Rowena: I most certainly am not.
Sam: Well he can’t come with me and I’m not leaving him alone, and I obviously don’t trust you.
Rowena: Obviously. The black grimoire is written in ancient Druid. How do you propose to find the proper spell without me there to..
Sam: Well you said a few of the Loghlins survived, right? That was the rumor?
Rowena: So you expect one of them to what? Translate their super-secret family spell book for you?
Once Rowena was left “babysitting” Dean, she regarded him as a child. His acceptance of her and his child-like mind allowed her to let down her guard and share a beautiful reflection that gave us more insight into her recent change of heart (which I had wondered about, actually). She revealed a piece of the twists in her life that made her seek magic so, like Lily from last week’s story, she would never be powerless again.
Mothers, their children, and Power
Rowena: Here. Play with this and I’ll tell you a story. Once, a beautiful witch was again run out of her homeland by those pompous, self-righteous, murderous hooligans. You know them as the British Men of Letters (BMoL). She sought refuge with a family of witches. All she wanted was a roof over her head and a safe place to hone her magic. Yet, they threw her out like common trash. Said she wasn’t up to snuff.Dean: Oh, these witches sound like dicks. I think you have plenty of snuff.Rowen: You can really remember nothing, can you? What a gift not to recall the things you’ve done.Dean: What have I done?Rowena: You’re a killer Dean Winchester. … but everything you’ve done, you’ve done for the greater good.Dean: and that’s supposed to make it OK?Rowena: I wouldn’t know. You help those other than yourself, but me, I’ve done horrible things, and I told myself it was fine. It was the price of power, and power’s what matters, right? Then I met God and his sister, the two most powerful beings in the universe, wasting on squabbling with each other and I thought, if they can’t be happy, or at least satisfied – how can there be any hope for me?Dean: Why are you telling me this?Rowena: ‘cause I know you won’t remember.
There are several Threads references in Rowena’s story. First, “Regarding Dean” continued to study power, the abuse of power, and whether power can make you happy. Both Lily and Rowena sought power to defend themselves against more powerful groups. In Lily’s case, it was angels. For Rowena, it was the BMoLs. Both women were made into killers by this power. Rowena informed Dean that he, too, became a killer to battle beings that are more powerful him. He questioned whether the motives or ends justify the means, though, continuing the season’s study of right versus wrong, good versus bad. The BMoLs were specifically categorized as the bad guys, bullies, or “hooligans” as she called them - men who hunted down a helpless “rag doll”:
Catriona: Raggedy Ann.Rowena: Excuse me.Catriona: I remember you. A rag doll all huddled up on our door step. I swore I could see the fleas nibbling away at whatever the hell was left of that dirty little body of yours.
Surely we are meant to feel sympathy for a wayward waif and condemn the group of thugs who chased her. Had she done anything wrong yet? Was she only interested in magic to avenge the powerful man who left her alone with a fatherless lovechild? Aren’t Sam, Dean and Cas now doing the same thing to Kelly? They are, after all, powerful, experienced and replete with weapons (both supernatural and conventional), skills and knowledge. Like Rowena, Kelly was also used by a powerful man, is scared, on the run, and completely alone.
Interestingly, a rag doll also was also significant in Lily’s history. It was her daughter’s favorite toy, a symbol and memento from their past. It fell to the dust when power struck down the innocent. This week, Rowena tried to diagnose Dean by referring to another toy, a Ken doll – a test that Sam was not willing to do!
Then the ragdoll idea reappeared as the toy Rowena gave to Dean to keep him occupied. The motherly references were reinforced when Rowena’s confession to Dean took the form of storytime between a mother and her child. She started her Grimm’s fairy tale with “Once” (we can all fill in the “upon a time” in our heads).
Rowena and Lily - and Mary, Lorraine, Jody, Lucas’ mom and so many others - are all mothers who were separated from their children because of overwhelming, powerful forces. Lily’s daughter was killed; Rowena abandoned her son to flee. By the time the “good guys” catch up to Kelly, we are not going to want to see her separated from her child either.
Secrets and Reunions
Rowena’s conversation with Sam (above) also brought up the "Secrets" thread. She said the “secret spell book” made the Loughlin family into leaders in their field, in this case, witchcraft. Did the “family secret spell book” remind anyone else of John Winchester’s journal? In a parallel to the Loughlins, the Winchester journal is also a book that the three survivors of a powerful family use to perfect their craft.
Rowena also pointed out that, given her ancestry and age, she was better equipped than Sam to reveal the Black Grimoire’s secrets. There were other references as well to it being “ancient” and that this family’s history went back 100 years, repeating the age thread and flashback to an earlier century that was present in “Lily Sunder”. In fact, Rowena could read the ancient language and use the book. Perhaps this foreshadows that John’s journal holds a secret that only Mary can unlock? Does her age, experience, and upbringing as a Campbell give her a unique skill to decode, or reveal, some Winchester family secret? What is the significance of again revisiting history and people that were together long ago?
Rowena crossing paths again with the Loughlins after so much time was an unhappy reunion for her. She had assumed, and probably hoped, they were all dead. On the other hand, Dean regaining himself and recognizing his brother were happy family reunions. Catriona also sought to reunite her family after the one brother’s death:
I want my family back.
Those words could easily have been said by Mary instead of a crazy, witch sister. Catriona was willing to go to extreme measures to “get the family back together” but Mary hasn’t yet been able to accept her new family life either. It’s possible all these reunion scenarios are simply reminders of Mary’s reentry into her boys’ lives. Alternately, since last week we revisited Castiel’s past, maybe Mary will soon be reunited with something or someone from her past. Like Rowena, Mary is a woman from a different age and only she knows the secrets that were buried long ago. In remembering the past Rowena said,
Witches from around the world came to live with [the Loughlins] and study its secrets, for a price.
This sounds like the business proposal the BMoLs are currently offering American hunters. The Brits will share their secrets and their unique books of knowledge, for a price. Lily also mentioned that someone could gain the knowledge of the angels, “If you’re willing to pay the price of admission.”
Similarly, Rowena mentioned that she helped Sam because she wanted the Winchesters to “owe her one”. At the end of their ordeal, Sam told Rowena,
We owe you one, a small one.
These references made me remember Crowley talking about pulling in favors when they were chasing Lucifer. Also, in “Lotus”, Mick remarked that he helped because word would get out that they aided a Winchester. In “Asa”, Billie told Dean he’d “owe her one” if she used her powers to transport him into the house. I seem to now remember other references to “we owe you one”, or “we’ll owe you one”. Anyone recall other moments? I’m now curious if all the talk of favors, owing things, and prices means that the Winchesters are racking up a debt. When and how is someone going to collect on these markers? Are they referring to the BMoL’s price being too steep? Will Mary’s secret cost her a price that she can’t pay? Is there another price that must be paid to either control the Nephilim or avoid “cosmic consequences”?
Boyd Loughlin may have given us a clue to the price to be paid. He intended to bring his brother back to life by stealing Sam’s soul. Suddenly, soullessness is becoming a persistent thread. During their last case, Sam discovered that Lily was becoming soulless, making him recount what soullessness felt like to him. There have been prior references to Sam’s soullessness as well (was it in Asa Fox, during the wake?). This is now more than a nod to earlier seasons’ canon. A soul is going to be the price someone has to pay, but who, when and why are still mysteries.
Saving People/Hunting Things
I mentioned that the humor of the episode was its hallmark to me but I haven’t talked much about that humor. The sticky notes were hilarious. Stay. Open Me. Witch Killing Bullets. How well they ALL know Dean! The best note was “NO!” on the grenade launcher.
Besides a laugh out loud break in the tension, it was also a message that the most powerful weapon available was not appropriate for the situation. It was a metaphorical NO to abusing power, to using a disproportionate solution to a problem. This was a subtle commentary on the BMoL’s approach – kill everyone with supernatural powers just to make sure nothing bad happens.
I also loved Dean’s expression when Rowena casually mentioned God and his sister,
and deciding that he liked his and Sam’s jobs. When he found out they kill monsters, Dean said,
Awesome. That’s awesome!... Monsters are real. And we’re the guys that kill them. I mean, c’mon. Best job EVER. … I don’t know. We kind of sound like heroes to me. … and our best friend’s an angel! WHAT?!?!
It was wonderful to hear him recognize the good that they do, and feel fulfilled by it, without being weighed down by its price
Humans and Animals
If “NO!” was my favorite moment of the episode, my second favorite was Dean waking up cuddled next to a bunny.
There were so many animal references in this show! They usually lighten the mood and make people feel warm and cuddly. That had to have been Kuma, Assistant Director Kevin Parks’ dog, in the park, jogging to Dean’s rescue.
Also, Dean knew Dory!
Dean: If a witch got a clear shot at me, I would be dead. I wouldn’t be freakin’ Dory. Not going to apologize for loving that fish. Not to you. Not to anyone.Sam: Right. If you’re doing so well, name all the members of Bon Jovi.Dean: … We’ll there’s Bon Jovi… Whatever. This is stupid. [Note: “stupid” thread]
There was one of my favorite childhood cartoons:
Butterflies screamed to incapacitate Sam. Mostly, there was Larry, the bull.
The insanity thread was again minimally present in “Regarding Dean”. He was “losing his mind” in this hunt, a colloquial definition of insanity. Last week, Ishim’s obsession, like the obsessed ghost father in “Foundry”, was also referred to as insane. The pattern is continuing with this thread being in almost every season 12 episode thus far.
A different state of mind, happiness, was an underlying study in “Regarding Dean”. Mary has been seeking happiness since her return. Sam at first thought maybe Dean’s regression to his childhood made him happy and Rowena ruminated on whether attaining power would make her happy. They all realized that running away or ignoring harsh realities isn’t the key to happiness, and certainly losing yourself isn’t happy. I don’t know. Dean was laughing more in this episode than we’ve seen in a long time.
There were two completely opposite sides to "Regarding Dean". Of course, there was a lot of heartache and pain. Dean and Sam were both scared, for different reasons. This was a beautiful, tender, brotherly interaction. I was honestly hoping the show pulled me into that side of its emotion. It didn't, though.
I could only focus on its happiness. That’s what I saw, even after watching it three times in one day. It’s supposed to be an escape from the realities of our everyday lives, after all.
I am still trying to learn to accept people for what they are now, rather than trying to get them back to what they used to be or worrying about what they’ll become in the future. That takes a great deal of compassion and patience. There are no magic spells in real life but spending an hour with these brothers and hearing them laugh and call themselves heroes sure helps. “Regarding Dean” was an imaginative, original, complex story that was brilliantly acted. The joy in it is that we all get to take away from it what we want.
Character Names confirmed with supernaturalwiki.com