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P.S. The Road So Far: Supernatural 

Much Ado About Dean and Dean!Michael 

By P.S. Griffin (a.k.a. Castiel's Cat)

The Road So Far
I have started and stopped this article so many times because I was not convinced I could do it justice; however with only a few days left until Dean!Michael it really is now or never!  It has been a while...a long while.  I was a long time sick and now I am much better. My reviews used to ramble in the old days because sick brains don't work as well as healthy ones. Three cheers for me!  I also was feeling a bit put off by my old friend "Supernatural" around the time season 11's  "Red Meat" rolled across my screen.  I actually loved the Carver years.  I recognized immediately that he was all about character arcs and that he was repeating Sam Winchester's heroic tragic fall in order to give him the kind of meaningful, well earned redemption arc required for a character that goes "way" dark which Sam did.  I will post a piece on my thoughts about this at a future date so PLEASE let's save our comments on that until then.  I only bring it up here because Dabb has continued Carver's legacy and because Sam and Dean's character arcs are closely connected.
I loved season 11 and I was not at all surprised by how it ended. In fact I more or less predicted the ending including the garden setting in my review of "Out of the Darkness, Into the Fire".  Amara was obviously written as a mirror for Hillary Clinton or someone very much like her; a strong woman who was vilified, shut down and locked up by men who were afraid of what she could do.  Chuck would appear obviously, very late in the season.  Dean's humanity, empathy, loyalty, and love of family would change how Amara saw the world. The bones of the ending were laid down by Carver in the season premiere. 
The writing took a definite turn for the worse with "Red Meat". There was an increase in what I call LOL plotting, LOL canon and LOL dialogue. Things happen that just don't make any sense.  Dean and Sam playing family counselors to Chuck and Lucifer?!!!  Lucifer acting like a teenager. Ignoring Michael, a powerful  archangel, when the world is about to end.  Metatron doing an about face and everybody trusting him after he malevolently killed Dean, stole Castiel's grace, put Sam in harm's way and co-opted heaven?!!! Perhaps this was not a storyline that could be wound up in three (?) episodes successfully.  Badabing badaboom!  But they did.  And they did it for a seemingly weak season 12 that offered very little in terms of action. Yeah.
Oh. And Chuck had a special talk with Dean and told him that he was in charge of things.  Called him a firewall.  Threw in the  "... and Sam" because this was Dean he was talking to...  Dean thinks in terms of Dean and Sam.  Chuck however seems rather "Deancentric".  Chuck answered Dean's prayer.  Chuck took Dean aside for the little chat about leaving him in charge. In season 4 Chuck tells Dean that Dean is changing God's story by bringing him to Lilith ("The Monster at the End of the Book"). In season 5 Chuck tells Dean that he is changing God's Story by going to Stull Cemetery ("Swan Song").  And in season 11, to Metatron's horror, Chuck appears to write God's story of the end of the world ("Don't Call Me Shurley”).  And then Chuck let Dean change the ending to that story too in the season 11 finale (“Alpha and Omega”). 
I bring this up not to sing Dean's praises but to emphasize how Chuck, laying the responsibility of the world on Dean, might affect him. This is a guy that was forced to grow up at four and parent a sibling. He already blames himself and takes responsibility for every loss and every mistake made on his watch. It has now been made official by God that everything is his responsibility and everything is his fault.  Cue imminent nervous breakdown. Cue season 13. Cue "Advanced Thanatology.”
All Roads Lead to the Apocalypse and Dean!Michael
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From "Keep Calm and Carry On" it was apparent that Dabb was continuing two writing trends that Carver used to do very well.  He used the premiere to introduce the season's themes in both subtext and text, and he was keeping the focus on character arcs.  Episode 12:1 effectively reboots the series. It starts out in familiar territory.  Characters are behaving more like they used to in the olden days.  Castiel is deadpan and badass again.  Dean is trigger happy and on edge.  Sam is very sympathetic to persons in peril and is fed up with Dean's antics. The storylines seem very familiar as well.  A Winchester has gone missing and the others team up and look for them. This time it is Sam not John. They even reboot some favorite lines of dialogue.  Both "We have work to do" and "the family business" get recycled deliberately this season, as well as John's Journal. For me these were all red flags.  We were on the road to another Winchester Apocalypse.
Actually by 12:1 I suspected  we were heading to the Apocalypse 2.0 and that this time the brother in the mytharc role would be Dean.  I also suspected that we would be getting Dean!Michael.  My reasoning was based on a few logical assumptions.  First, from a writing standpoint the only reason to return to the Apocalypse was to revisit an aborted storyline.  Second, I knew that the focus for the next few seasons was going to be Dean.  We had just spent seasons 8-11 watching Sam go through the stages of a heroic tragic fall and redemption arc which fully explored his tragic flaw including its roots in his childhood upbringing ("Just My Imagination"). Based upon the groundwork already established by Carver, it was obvious they were now doing the same thing for Dean.  This is why Mary is so important of course.  Later on in season 12, as Mary's storylines mirrored that of Sam's from seasons 1-5, it was obvious that the upcoming apocalyptic mytharc focused on Dean.
There were a lot of subtextual  hints in the writing that an apocalypse was coming.  Storylines seemed similar to those we saw before because they were deliberately borrowed from the first apocalyptic mytharcs. For instance, "American Nightmare" featured a girl with psychic powers who was traumatized and nearly murdered by a parent who believed her to be possessed by the devil.  This was an extraordinary reference to two of Sam's storylines leading up to the Apocalypse: first, fans know that Sam was fed demon blood as an infant which gave him demon powers and second, that he was Lucifer's one true vessel and subsequently possessed by the devil. That is a mighty big anvil. Another episode centered around evil Nazis and a plot to reincarnate Hitler - requiring a special family bloodline being requisite for possession - in which Dean "ganked" the reincarnated Hitler ("The One You’ve Been Waiting For"). Special family bloodline is boldfaced because it is a subtextual anvil for the one true vessel storyline, Dean of course being Michael's One True Vessel.  
Other subtextual tidbits include parallel storylines and themes from Supernatural's first pre-apocalyptic seasons. For instance, there is the introduction of a pre-apocalyptic powerful child, although instead of season 5's part demonic so-called "Antichrist" Jessie ("I Believe the Children Are Our Future"), season 11 introduced the powerful Jack - the offspring of the archangel Lucifer. In season 4's "Jump the Shark,” the Winchesters learn that John fathered a son (Adam) with another woman and maintained a relationship with him. In  "Celebrating the Life of Asa Fox,” the Winchesters learn that, before her death, Mary saved a boy's life and he became a hunter as a result - a spiritual son, and they reconnected after she left the bunker. And, of course,  there were lots of ghosts, shapeshifters, werewolves, witches and humans sacrificing humans to pagan gods, etc.  Monster of the week stories that were closely associated with the early pre-apocalyptic years were deliberately mixed in with the main story arcs, character arcs and season themes. Overwhelmingly the major theme of the stories was family.  We saw different kinds of families.  We saw stories of family legacies passed down through bloodlines. We saw family dying to protect family, family killing family because they were different and family using the supernatural in a desperate act to preserve their loved ones. Not only is the concept of family integral to Dean, these themes are the same themes of Supernatural's first apocalyptic seasons. These episodes together are compelling evidence that sub-textually tell us that we are on the road to another apocalypse, Apocalypse 2.O, one featuring Dean in the mytharc role eventually leading to Dean!Michael.
The Song Remains the Same with Eyeliner...or the British Invasion
Lucifer is a nihilistic rock star with smeared eyeliner who has no purpose because Daddy does not love him enough. Rick Springfield does bring a certain je ne sais quoi admittedly... and I was sad to lose the aging glam goth head banger. After a brief bloody respite in a Bishop, Lucifer goes "LOTUS" and as a generic President Lucifer fathers a Nephilim.  The Winchesters, wing man Crowley and Rowena stage a coup and appear to send Lucifer back to the cage easily and successfully. Of course I knew that he was not in the cage because there can be no apocalypse without the devil. Secret Service agents capture the brothers post haste which involves ridiculous LOL plotting involving Mary, Castiel, Billie the Reaper and the British Men of Letters who are obviously not to be trusted because they kidnapped Sam, attempted to assassinate Dean and Castiel and tortured both brothers by way of introduction.  No amount of fancy toys, smart outfits, sharp quips, or eclectic music makes up for poor manners. And everything about the BMOL reeks of LOL world building.  They are a conglomeration of the old school Avengers, James Bond, Bizarro Hogwarts (if Voldemort ran things battle royale style), and they are first class snobs. 
Oh and in an uncharacteristically stupid move on Crowley's part, he thwarts Rowena's spell to put Lucifer back into the cage as part of some alpha male revenge sub-plot in order to achieve satisfaction for the debasement he suffered when Lucifer ruled Hell and he was resident floor licker. Of course this backfires spectacularly on him through some truly wretched LOL plotting and minion hijinks.  Crowley escapes death because he is Crowley. Lucifer rises once again in a permanent Nick suit courtesy of Crowley to a beautiful sunrise and a brave new world. 
Good golly miss Molly! If this does not scream Apocalypse 2.0 I do not know what does. It also de facto screams Dean!Michael since they literally have run out of moves and they have utterly failed to contain him.  Michael has the previous track record because he put Lucifer in the cage the first time. Dean and Sam did it the second time. Unfortunately  Dean rewriting God's Story + Sam being Lucifer's vessel is not happening this time around. That story has already been told.
However, some of the episodes in season 12 were decent. My favorite was "Regarding Dean".  Does anyone else think that maybe Rowena tapped Dean when she was babysitting him (Nudge Nudge Wink Wink!).  She does call him "lover" in season 13's "Various & Sundry Villains.”  As mentioned the majority of episodes in season 12 revolved around the themes of family including family legacies and the things we will do for family - like revenge or weird supernatural magic.  This is significant.  It tells us how important family is to Dean's character arc and how important Mary's storyline - and to a lesser extent Sam's storyline - are in relationship to Dean.  PLEASE no huffing and puffing.  Remember Dean and Sam's relationship has been the focus of the last eleven seasons. The writers are using Mary to explore Dean's tragic flaw because it originated when he lost his mother in the fire at age four. From that grew his lifelong aspiration and mantra: saving people, killing things: the family business 
The other major anvils dropped in a season 12 episode occurred in the obvious Tarantino knock-off "Stuck in the Middle (With You),” which featured the Prince of Hell Ramiel, Michael's lance, the green room painting of Michael defeating Lucifer, Castiel with a bleeding gut wound, a failed heist and the reveal that Mary is working  for the BMOL which set up the attack as a feint to steal The Colt for them. (The Colt by the way is yet another big shout out and subtextual anvil that we are heading to the Apocalypse 2.O.  Dean of course tried to kill Lucifer with it in an attempt to stop the Apocalypse in "Abandon All Hope.”). Crowley saves the day by risking his life to negotiate with Ramiel and ends up breaking the lance. After which Dean carefully picks up the pieces of the lance and cradles them in his arms... a pretty big bit of Dean!Michael foreshadowing.  Hello beautiful indeed! I like Reservoir Dogs. I suspect in better directorial hands this turkey might have been a swan. It did confirm for me what I was suspecting since 12:1: we were on the road to the Apocalypse 2.0. 
There is Something About Mary
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At the end of season 11, before she departs with her brother Chuck, Amara gifts Dean with the thing he wants most in this world.  Walking home, Dean discovers his resurrected mother Mary still in the nightgown she died in.  After a badass awkward reunion they talk and bond until dawn with Dean filling her in on almost forty years of the road so far. She wears Dean's clothes beautifully. They arrive at the Bunker to find blood, Sam and Castiel missing and an angel banishing sigil. Cas quickly returns and they head out to find Sam.
I complained a lot about season 12 above. The action storylines were not strong and they were nonsensical.  However, the Winchester family plotlines were a thing of beauty.  They were as rich and complex as a Greek myth.  Something along the lines of the curse on the house of Atreus - blood, and war and monsters - just without the matricide and cannibalism. I feel a lot like the goddess Calliope saying this... lol.  Relax though, I have no plans to eat the writers ("Fan Fiction")!  
Mary's storylines mirrored those of Sam's in seasons 1-5.  She feels like the outcast in the family.  She is literally feeling both culture shock and a mental disassociation from having been abruptly taken from her heavenly life caring for an infant and four year old child in the late seventies to being resurrected and thrust into a world nearly forty years later in which her son's are grown men and strangers.  The technological changes alone would be enough to instill feelings of not belonging. Secondly, she immediately sees her sons' being brutally tortured and having their lives threatened by an evil organization who deliberately targeted them because they are Winchesters.  She learns of the horrible years leading up to the Apocalypse that resulted from her demon deal to save the life of a the man she loved because of a cupid's love spell. She sees that they her boys have no lives beyond hunting and that they are in far worse danger all of the time than her family, the Campbells, ever were. She feels like this is all her fault. The combination of feeling like an outcast, being overwhelmed and feeling guilty leads her to behave like a Winchester. 
In deliberate mirroring that sub-textually hints at the oncoming apocalypse, Mary assumes many of the character traits and story arcs that Sam had in seasons 1-5. For instance she has a tendency to leave abruptly when she is overwhelmed because she needs some space to resolve her feelings, which is an early Sam trait that hurt Dean. Mary also worked with the enemy because she thought it was the best means to an end which Dean sees as a betrayal.  Mary works with the BMOL and Ketch, much like when Sam worked with Ruby - also seen as a betrayal by Dean.  Mary even becomes possessed by a demon like Sam and John. She becomes controlled by the big bad (in this case, it's mind control, of course), during which time she kills hunter friends of the Winchesters. Sam killed hunter friends when possessed by Meg. Finally she literally punches Lucifer falling through a rift and disappears into an Apocalypse world, an obvious parallel to Sam pushing Lucifer into the Cage and disappearing to end the Apocalypse.  
Do we see that Mary has absorbed Sam's first Apocalyptic storylines?  Do we see that Dean's protectiveness to Sam also extends to Mary?  Do we see the deliberate attempt by the writers to set the stage for another apocalypse, Apocalypse 2.0, one in which Sam does not have a mytharc role and Dean obviously does?  As far as I was concerned it was most definitely looking like a very Supernatural Apocalypse starring Dean!Michael!!!
Mary is also a lot like Dean. Not just the badassery and junk food.  She uses manic hunting as a stress release.  And she has the same reckless impulse for on the spot, without a second thought self sacrifice.  For instance she said her goodbyes and went through the rift punching the devil as she did it to save her boys within seconds of seeing Lucifer. She also feels tremendous responsibility and guilt for the lives they led; she tried to make their lives better by throwing herself into hunting, in the hopes that she might rid the world of monsters, which is exactly the thing Dean was aiming to do for Sammy with the Trials to close the Gates of Hell, except Sam ended up doing them to stop Dean's suicide run.  
Sam Winchester has been shifted into the role of the more sensitive, caretaker over the course of the season which fully manifests in season 13 to great success.  Remember how Dean used to keep the peace between Sam and John because they were too similar and rubbed edges?  Sam does the same thing for Dean and Mary in season 12.  It is important to remember that for Sam and Mary their relationship is a clean slate so there was no expectations to shatter and therefore no angst and no story to tell yet.
Winchesters!...  This is why we love them.  Except so many fans do not love Mary.  Frankly the writers spent enough time telling the story and making these connections and the actress is fine. I chalk up the vitriol to the fact that most fans wear prescription lenses when they watch the show and writing that works for the Winchester Men often will not work for another character.  Which is a pity.  Mary is a Winchester. She is flawed, badass and heroic. I loved her.  And she was so necessary for understanding Dean's storyline throughout seasons 12 and 13.
Seriously Regarding Dean
So Dean's life pretty much has been hell since his dad told him he might have to kill his brother whom he has been protecting his entire life. Dean steadfastly refused to do this and anyone who asks him to do this dies; just ask Death who was killed by Dean with his own scythe.  Unfortunately stuff happens and Sam gets tied up, hurt and tortured a lot; he has died and been dying, he has been soulless and possessed by  two angels and two demons.  Sammy needs a lot of rescuing. And life has been especially bad since Dean changed God's story and showed up at Stull Cemetery stopping the Apocalypse from ever happening... except that apocalyptic things still do happen every season or so pretty regularly.
In "The Pilot" we see the origin of Dean's core issues that drive his tragic flaw.  They appear in the intertwined events of the traumatic loss of his mother and the first time he protects Sam by cradling the infant in his arms during the aftermath of the fire. For Dean, the family business is a way to protect all families and prevent them from suffering the loss he has suffered. He sacrifices his life for theirs willingly ongoing throughout the series. His tragic flaw manifests when his own family is in danger, triggered by their loss through absence, alienation of affection, threat of death, or actual death and the result is a self sacrifice on a grand scale that leads to mytharc implications. The grand self sacrifice is usually accompanied by mental health issues. Dean suffers from depression. He feels losses, rejection, and abandonment too acutely. He feels too much responsibility for everything; initially  this was because of how he was raised, however now he has literally been told by God and Death that he is responsible for the fate of the world. Cue imminent nervous breakdown. Cue season 13. Cue "Advanced Thanatology."
The writing had already started to tiptoe around Dean's tragic flaw in seasons 8-11, since his "death wish" and overly protective nature (in Sam’s mind) function as the triggers for Sam's behavior in seasons 8-11. We saw Dean try to sacrifice himself with the Trials to close the Gates of Hell in season 8, offer himself to any angel who could save Sam in season 9, attempt to offer himself to Crowley to save Sam in season 9, sacrifice himself by getting the Mark of Cain in season 9 in order to kill Abbadon, ask for Death in season 10 to prevent anyone else from dying because of him and kiss the cursed girl in season 11 to save her life at the risk of his own.  Additionally we can add Dean selling his soul in season 2 to save Sam's life, going to Stull Cemetery to be with Sammy in season 5, and dying to save Sam's soul in season 6.  It is a really long list of Dean deciding that his life is worth less than the lives of others. 
Carver's list is much longer than Kripke's. Dean already was broken by the events of seasons 6 and 7, expressing nihilistic resignation over the fact that every year another mini Apocalypse seems to happen. It never ends.  Much as he did with Sam, the writing under Carver took Dean's major tragic flaws - the defining character trait that he developed from his family tragedy and upbringing - and magnified it. He also put it into text for the first time albeit using baby steps. Sam awkwardly tries to tell Dean that hunting does not have to be a death run in "Trial and "Error" and Sam is absolutely gobsmacked by Dean's behavior in "Love Hurts" telling Dean, "Wait. Are you serious? You think it’s a great idea to give yourself a fatal curse?... I’m just saying. You don’t have to do this. Be the guinea pig....Be the martyr. Try to carry the weight by yourself.”
Unfortunately carrying the weight by himself is exactly what Dean does. He feels the responsibility and he bears the burden. This was exactly how John raised him to do, according to what we have seen in flashbacks and what Dean has said.  Dean was responsible for Sam since the age of four and was punished severely if anything went wrong on his watch.  And now, Chuck has confirmed that Dean is responsible for everything that happens in the world: everything and everyone is on his watch.  Dean is Supernatural's one true Atlas with the weight of the world on his shoulders who can never ever shrug... or stop... or lay his weary head to rest. The one thing that season 12 did beautifully besides introduce Mary and reboot the apocalyptic mytharc, was to continue Dean's emotional storyline centering on his tragic flaw and connect it to the "The Pilot" with a straight line that reinforces the importance of Mary, Sam, his family history, the family business, his family burden, his cosmic burden and the seemingly never-ending Apocalypse to his mental health issues and his tragic flaw. Dean in seasons 1-5 was all about saving Sam.  Dean in seasons 12-13 was all about saving Mary. The writers clearly established the parallels. If anyone missed this because of fangirl hate then you missed a magnificent storyline.
Dean is a complex character with extreme physical prowess who is a BAMF and probably the best damn hunter on the planet.  The man survived Purgatory for a year ("We Need to Talk About Kevin"), was so ornery that he was thrown out of fairyland after having been snatched for Oberon's pleasure ("Clap Your Hands If You Believe") and was the first human to kill an angel, a seraph with four heads one of which was a lion ("Point of No Return"). He killed the king of the leviathan ("Survival of the Fittest”); he killed the Mother of all monsters by drinking phoenix ash and daring her to bite him ("Mommy Dearest").  He did this all as a human and without fancy gadgets too. So he is pretty much the best that ever was. And any fan that thinks the writing gives him short shrift is not paying close attention and they are certainly misunderstanding the importance of Dean's full complement of character attributes. He is also a character whose primary motivation is emotional and family oriented.  He hunts to save other families. He sacrifices himself to save other families. He makes the big self sacrifices when the world and his family are at risk.  Ergo emotional, family driven storylines are the primary motivation for Dean's action storylines. For Dean there will not be any mytharc moments without an emotional trigger deriving from a family storyline. There was a reason for all of those stories centered on families in season 12 beyond subtextual hints at the upcoming Apocalypse.
Therefore Dean and Mary's storylines were intricately linked.  I have already established that the writers substituted Mary for Sam in the pre-apocalyptic storylines.  She hurts Dean with her withdrawal, absence and betrayal and she also becomes the focus of Dean's protective nature. He began being protective of her immediately and saved her multiple times throughout the season; likewise she also saved him.  He saves her first in "The Foundry" and he risks his life to save her twice, in "Celebrating the Life of As a Fox" and "Who We Are.” The latter also gave Dean and Mary an opportunity to reconcile their memories of their the way things were - reconciling their fantasies of each other with the way things are and move beyond cherished memories to the more solid ground of who they are as real people in the here and now.  Their relationship with each other was built on memories essentially so to have their confrontation play out inside her mind was brilliant and it was moving and heartfelt. However, the quiet before the storm as Dean's happy family will be once again torn asunder by Lucifer and the Apocalypse in "All Along the Watchtower".  Of course Mary saves Dean and kills the big bad Ketch as he brutally beats her son in an obvious parallel to "Swan Song.”  This is another strong hint that we are heading towards another apocalypse.
Time for a wee rant... Dean's protectiveness towards Sam and his family, the fact that Mary is his MOTHER, the fact that the writers were obviously and deliberately giving Mary Sam's storylines and Dean's demonstrated protectiveness over Mary in season 12 made it literally the most obvious choice in the world that Dean would prioritize saving Mary over anything else, battered leg or not. Unfortunately Mary hatred is so rampant that apparently this is not obvious and it must explained. SIGH. I was gobsmacked to see fans complain that Dean saving Mary in "Who We Are" was an instance of "sidelining" him.  Umm... NO x1000000.  It was the A plot, the "Swan Song" mirror for goodness sake... which is why It received the big budget. In comparison the raid on the BMOL looked worse than most SyFy movies. No disrespect to Sam. I enjoyed Sam being in charge and having great success at it.  But come on... Dean was the one Winchester smart enough to stay far away from that turd of a storyline. I was very happy he kept his hands clean of the BMOL stink.
The birth of a child is usually a joyous occasion. Not so for the birth of Lucifer's child, a powerful Nephilim. He tears open a rift between alternate universes while still in the womb revealing a horrific Apocalypse world ravaged by angelic battalions ruled by the megalomaniac and malignant AU archangel Michael.  Dean, Sam and Castiel briefly visit noting that it ain't pretty.  The only purpose for this visit is to alert sleepy viewers of the keywords "Apocalypse" and "Michael".  "All Along the Watchtower"  is the proverbial smoking gun to my Apocalypse + Dean!Michael theory.  It is only a matter of time before that universe's problem becomes Dean's problem.  
The Winchesters came to stop the birth; however, the baby is coming and so is Lucifer which means all kinds of bad.  They prepare a plan with loyal wingman Crowley.  Mary helps with the birthing and the men prepare to beat the devil using the gift of the rift.  The action moves to the Apocalypse world because the story we have been told tells us that Lucifer is ended during the Apocalypse!  (Nudge nudge wink wink!). The Winchesters are bait, Cas is muscle and Crowley sacrifices himself (the horror, the horror!!!) in a spell to close the rift. It seems to work. The Winchesters and Castiel escape back to our world. Yeah, Team Free Will!
Unfortunately Castiel has not watched enough horror movies and he stupidly stands directly infront of the open rift allowing Lucifer to stab him through the chest with his archangel blade as he steps through the rift, gloating.  By this time Mary who is done with the birthing of babies bursts out of the house, dons her magical brass knuckles, says her goodbyes to her boys, and - in classic Dean Winchester fashion - throws herself at Lucifer, punching away and forcing them both into the rift before it closes.  She impulsively sacrifices herself to save her boys, just like Dean has done.  She disappeared into a rift with Lucifer, just like Sam did. There is another apocalypse, and the close-up on Dean's face says it all.
A Dance with Death 
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The writing in season 13 is vastly superior in terms of individual episodes, character arcs and mytharc as we see Dean's slow inevitable trudge to the Apocalypse and Dean!Michael.  He is a man in mourning, a man on the verge of a nervous breakdown, a man who literally committed suicide because of a haunted house and a man who is engaged in an ongoing dance with Death.  Dean's mental health issues were the subject of so many episodes.  The entire storyline has been truly remarkable.  
Because I have only been watching a single time these past two seasons and because this article is a broad overview I am really not giving the subject it's full due.  The writers have handled this beautifully. Dean's mental state is inextricably tied into his self sacrifice impulse. This season it is all about the loss of Mary at age four, losing her again just like he lost Sam in "Swan Song" with Lucifer through a closing door to another realm and of course there is yet another apocalypse.  
Jensen Ackles supports the writing throughout the season by portraying Dean as largely broken and simply done with it all. It is a beautiful performance. For me the most important episodes regarding Dean's mental state are "Lost and Found" with its powerful scenes of Dean acting out throughout the episode, Dean in mourning, and of course that emotional prayer to Chuck and "Advanced Thanatology" in which Dean is so broken that he essentially commits suicide on a hunt as if it is a normal hunting practice and admits to New Death, formerly Billie the Reaper murdered last season by Castiel ("First Blood"), that he is in fact broken and done with it all, causing Death to be so concerned she gives him a babysitter ("Funeralia") to ensure that he does not die as he deliberately dances with death because she knows that he has a greater purpose, "work to do", and  she will not let him rewrite the story of his death.  
"Advanced Thanotology" was an important episode for so many reasons. It was obvious to me that this work that Dean was destined to do involved saving our world from the upcoming Apocalypse as Dean!Michael, however to my chagrin no one else seemed to see it this way despite the great "work to do" reference. As of "Exodus" it looks like he may be destined to save two worlds as Dean!Michael!... Duh!  It also continued Dean's rather unusual relationship with Death in her new incarnation who seems insistent on continuing her instruction of Dean on the natural order despite him having killed Death's last incarnation.  Both God!Chuck and Death have unusual proprietary interests in Dean Winchester and now both have told him he has responsibility for the world. In addition "Advanced Thanatology" is so important for understanding Dean Winchester because it fully articulates his tragic flaw and modus operandi in a single episode just in case you have not been watching the show.  Of course in this instance it is a gross exaggeration because the big bad is ghosts and Dean has never had to kill himself to save Sammy from ghosts before. The fact that he did this is a red flag that all is not well with Dean.  Sam is in trouble. Dean sacrifices himself to save Sam.  Problem solved.  Dean gets mytharc role. Roh ruh.  Dean never plans on the Roh ruh.  He is just focused on the saving Sam, saving family, saving families, saving people... by killing things and by sacrificing himself... AND by sacrificing himself permanently when he gets to that point in his head because they have taken too many hits, too many losses and things are just so bad that he sees no other way and it is all his fault, all his responsibility.
The writing hits Dean's mental state and death wish on and off mostly in character tics, emotional outbursts, generalized negativity and later on in manic behavior and lethargy as well as ongoing disturbing facial expressions by Jensen Ackles.  Dean Winchester pulls a gun on an innocent in "The Bad Place" signifying that the is in a very bad place…quite literally by the end of the episode.  There are also observations by other characters, primarily Sam who should win the award for best brother for the number of times he tries to talk to Dean this season with tact, sensitivity and concern.  I cannot help but think that this storyline is influenced in part by the charity for mental health awareness founded by Jensen Ackles and Jared Padalecki (Always keep Fighting).
Other characters notice Dean is not himself as well. For instance Jody Mills notices Dean is out of sorts in "Patience" and the Winchesters have a bizarre form of family therapy in "The Big Empty" and despite the fact that Dean is not talking the fake therapist quickly realizes that he is the "problem" child. The fact that Dean's mental state is deteriorating into severe depression is amplified by the fact that there is so much mental illness all around him.  Mary suffers from anxiety and guilt.  Donatello has a nervous breakdown.  Both Rowena and Sam develop PTSD.  Gabriel also has PTSD.  Lucifer is a raging narcissist.  Jack has borderline personality disorder. The angels appear to be losing it too with each one we meet worse off than the next. Naomi has been effectively lobotomized, playground angel is so depressed that he wants to drink himself to death and we are repeatedly told that Michael is in the cage stark raving mad.
In "A Most Holy Man,” a rather lackluster riff on film noir especially The Maltese Falcon, Dean literally dances with death daring mobsters and a mob boss to shoot him by showing them extreme disrespect.  He also shows hopeless despair in contrast to the priest's radiant faith. In "Bring 'em Back Alive" after having recklessly raced off to the AU Apocalypse world, Dean's mental state has deteriorated to such a degree that he is visibly off of his game. Ketch notices and comments on it more than once.  Dean is nearly fatally shot as a result requiring Ketch to tenderly dress his wound and call him a "good lad.” Dean is never off of his game; he survived Purgatory for a year as a human and the monsters ran from him. In "Unfinished Business,” Dean is distracted and cannot even bother to care about Gabriel and his nonsense -  "This is so stupid," may be the best Dean Winchester .gif ever.  He recklessly races off to meet the demi-god Loki alone just to get it all over with. In ""Beat the Devil" Dean is visibly off his game again, so much so he appears to be like the walking dead.  Team Free Will without Dean at its head has no center and the mission ends up a ragtag clusterFCK of errors.  Dean only comes alive when Sam is in trouble but by then it is too late. Sam dies and is later resurrected by Lucifer.
We have summarized the writing emphasis on Dean's mental state.  Now let's examine how the writing has set the stage for Dean!Michael. "Lost and Found" was step one.  Dean has suffered a big, shocking, tragic loss of family which has primed his tragic flaw trigger and has also served to keep the connection to the Apocalypse world open. Second, Dean prayed to God in episode 13:1 and archangels hear prayers to God too.  This was reiterated in "Bring 'Em Back Alive" when Lucifer listened to humans praying. When Sam prayed to God in episode 11:1, "Out of the Darkness, Into the Fire,” it was Lucifer that answered.  It may be that Michael (crazy Michael) has been speaking to Dean in visions and dreams and this has contributed to his declining mental state, only this information has been withheld for shock and awe.
"Advanced Thanatology" was the big set-up in my opinion for Dean!Michael.  Billie basically tells him that he cannot die in the episode because there is something big that is going to happen in our world regarding the AU Apocalypse and only he can fix the resulting mess. And of course he believes her because God told him everything is his responsibility. Obviously this means Dean!Michael because Apocalypse + Lucifer = Dean!Michael.  AU Michael is just a super duper evil megalomaniac archangel substitute for Lucifer, except he who lacks the bad sense of humor and awful singing.  And by the way, every time AU Michael is mentioned we fans are supposed to be thinking of our Michael knitting in the cage waiting for Dean to come a knocking. And now that the AU Apocalypse has come a knocking over here it is definitely show time. Everyone finally sees that right?!!!
This season after two years of saying that we are getting an apocalypse and Dean!Michael  I decided that Castiel's Cat's name is Cassandra.  Cassandra was the daughter of King Priam of Troy; she had the gift of prophecy and the misfortune to never be believed.  I have spent the last two years positing that the Apocalypse was coming and Dean!Michael too because all of the signs and portends were there!!! Only to be patted on the head at best and mocked at worst.  It was like hitting the proverbial brick wall, the exception being my peeps at "The Historical Meow" ( who listened kindly and believed in my theories this season at least and who always sweetly accepted them even when they rolled their eyes early on, which I totally understand because nobody really wanted two more seasons of Lucifer. We were all with Dean on that point.  JUST. KILL. HIM. NOW.  

Speaking of signs and portends
This season contained many more hints than last season. The archangel Michael was referenced by AU Michael in "The Rising Son" when he notes that he killed his Lucifer, Michael was name-dropped by Lucifer in "Various & Sundry Villains,” name dropped during an exorcism in "Bring ‘em Back Alive,” and described by Lucifer as always a good looking, studly, warrior type, in other words - DEAN - by Lucifer to Jack in “Exodus.” The latter very explicitly points to Dean!Michael; however if you are still fumbling at this point you really are not paying attention.
The archangel Gabriel is back for a brief, limited appearance including demigods before helping the brothers corral Lucifer. Sadly, since Gabriel died in his first pre-apocalyptic engagement, this obviously would also happen again and thus his wings quickly faded to black. Since this happened in Apocalypse 1.0 as a precursor to the Apocalypse his appearance is a harbinger of the Apocalypse 2.0 his death before the final battle was almost certainly guaranteed.  Fangirls you should not have been surprised because the writings are and have been deliberately mirroring the first Apocalypse to signal the coming of the second Apocalypse. Lucifer, the first Apocalypse's big bad kills him the first time and AU Michael kills him the second time. This suggests that despite  the promo showing Dean!Michael (assumed on my part) battling Lucifer Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon style, the main apocalyptic battle probably occurs mano a mano between the two Michaels.
Dean's very direct and well-stated desire for Lucifer to be killed immediately would have been carried out on the spot had human Dean been able to kill an archangel.  This is foreshadowing.  Sam has had the opportunity twice to take his revenge and he has not been able to execute it successfully. In "Scoobynatural" Dean allows Fred to formulate a plan that he knows will not work whilst Dean arranges a back-up plan that will.  Dean let Sam have his revenge twice. This time, Dean will handle it as Dean!Michael... guaranteed.
One of the biggest hints for Dean!Michael is one of the strangest episode interludes that involves Castiel and subtitles. Of couse I speak of the sand men or are they cities?!!!... Gog and Magog. Yes. Goeth thee to ye olde Wikipedia and ye shall find that the killing of Gog and Magog is a harbinger of the Apocalypse and their killer is the Messiah in Jewish lore; (  Also Jewish tradition sometimes conflates the Messiah and Michael and Supernatural definitely does... so the fact that our "pretty" Dean killed Gog and Magog is kind of a big deal.  
Another big sign is the sudden, random and very rushed death and resurrection of Sam Winchester by the archangel Lucifer.  Sam was Lucifer's one true vessel and was Lucifer's vessel in Apocalypse 1.0.  Dean mirrors Sam in regards to Michael.  Ergo the entire purpose of this very awkward and rushed plot was to foreshadow the exact thing happening to Dean and Dean's imminent death will most likely will be the mechanism used to broker the deal between him and Michael currently knitting in the Cage.  Presumably Death will facilitate this by bringing Dean's soul to Michael as he lays dying which explains her "See you later Dean," comment in “Funeralia.” At least this is what makes the most sense to me at this time.  I was previously an advocate of the Rowena maneuver for obvious reasons ("O Brother Where Art Thou" and "The Devil in the Details") however she appears to be inexplicably alive, redeemed and on Team Free Will as a wee witchy red-haired red herring.  Also Dean really really hates Lucifer now so there is just that much more motivation to sacrifice himself to end him for Sammy.
In "The Scorpion and the Frog" Dean is at the center of a fun little caper organized by a wannabe Crowley-lite crossroads demon because he is the righteous man who shed blood in Hell and was raised from Perdition to be Michael's Sword... and it involved another man who sold his soul to save a loved one.  This was subtle NOT!!! as far as subtext anvils go.  Seriously... how do you miss this?  And yet so many people did not see Dean!Michael coming and still don't?!!!  Come on! 
"The Thing" was a fun episode in which Dean is swashbuckling and he gets rewarded by the damsel in distress... just not with the usual kiss.  In a perverted twist on Dean's hentai kink she is a tentacle goddess and she ties him up to use him as she wishes. Unfortunately she has chosen him as the host for her tentacle God consort because she "likes" him, he is "strong" and she "enjoys" looking at his face.  That sounds pretty close to one true vessel parlance from a mating standpointIn other words the dude was chosen as a vessel for the divine because of his superior genetics babyThis one actually is a subtle subtextual anvil. It is okay if you missed it.
Another subtle subtextual anvil was the camp Bizarro Inglorious Bastards torture sequence in "Exodus" whose sole purpose was to introduce Castiel mano a mano Castiel swordplay and banter to foreshadow some serious Michael versus Michael action.  Archangels keep it real.
The writers also introduced some dire storylines that need solving quickly or else there will be people dying and world ending consequences. Who you gonna call? At this point there is only Dean! Michael.
In "Funeralia" we learn that Heaven is running on empty.  There are eight angels up there and Lucifer has badly drained their batteries.  If they fail to keep heaven together Supernatural becomes a computer game with bad CGI and a myriad of ghosts running amuck and no one wants to see that.
By the ending of "Exodus" it is clear that Apocalypse 2.0 comes with two big bads: our very own Lucifer who is the world's worst gift that keeps on giving and AU Apocalypse world's Michael who is bigger, badder and more of an egomaniac than Lucifer, albeit without the snare drum comedy routine and execrable karaoke. The only thing that can stop an archangel is something of equal or greater power. The only thing left on the board is Dean!Michael. It is an apocalypse... Apocalypse 2.0. AU Michael needs killing. Lucifer has overstayed his welcome. Dean was screaming at everyone to kill him last episode. Make it so Dean!Michael.
Big eyeroll at anyone still not onboard this bus.
Assorted Musings
Dean. I hope he is mortally wounded in battle rather than by self injury or by Jack.  His recent track record though suggests he will commit suicide.  He has killed himself four previous times to rendezvous with Death. THREE TIMES IN THE LAST THREE YEARS!  Dean needs help.  This goes beyond heroics.  We all see this right?
Billie, fate, chance, the natural order.  Billie knows she needs Dean to save the world this time and I think she will facilitate getting him to Michael. She may ask Dean!Michael for a favor in return to restore the natural order.  It has always struck me that before this season Death's interest in Dean appears to have been to teach him to let Sam die.  In the season 6 episode "Appointment in Samarra" Death tried to teach Dean that things must die at their allotted time. Historically Dean has never been able to let Sam die  In the season 10 finale "Brother's Keeper" Death asks Dean to kill Sam permanently with his scythe and we saw how that went down. We know Billie is worried about the natural order and the consequences of choice. Consider me worried about what Death might ask of Dean!Michael in order to restore the natural order.

I have a pet theory that Dean changing God's story by going to Stull Cemetery interfered with the natural order and fate on a cosmic scale by creating two immediate effects and two not so immediate effects. Immediately there was no Apocalypse and Michael was imprisoned in the Cage causing ongoing angelic chaos that has finally resulted in the cosmic crisis in heaven and the world has seemingly teetered on the verge of multiple apocalyptic crises since finally ending up in Apocalypse Now. Eventually Sam lived again after Castiel's intervention and even later Sam effected Lucifer's release allowing Lucifer once again to walk the Earth which restarted the pre-apocalyptic countdown again.  Now we have Apocalypse 2.0 and we will have Dean!Michael. Death will ask Dean!Michael to kill Sam and fix heaven.  Relax... I am sure there will be an out clause or a reset button. It IS "Supernatural."
Jack, Sam and Lucifer.  I have enjoyed Jack's storyline because of the writing and the acting and I have enjoyed seeing Sam develop a mentoring relationship with a young powerful boy that is connected to Lucifer and with whom he feels a natural protectiveness and kinship.  Although both Jack and Sam have declared their intent and desired goals regarding their nemeses very clearly as far as plot resolution, we have seen Sam fail resoundingly with his revenge plot. Sam is not going to be the one to end Lucifer.  This is for the best because he needs to be able to maintain a close relationship with Jack in order to prevent him from going nuclear.  Being complicit in the death of Jack's father kills Sam's role as Jack's mentor.   
As for Jack, the show has been straightforward in regards to the lore on Nephilim; they are too powerful and they are too unstable. This is why Chuck ordered them killed as standard operating procedure. Mary was a maternal calming influence  beneficial to Jack in balancing his volatility. Sam fulfills this role too. Lucifer and the anger and violence that he incites will turn Jack into a powder keg.  Jack is good. Jack desperately wants to be like Dean and Sam and Castiel.  He reads about heroes and watches geek fantasy films and models his behavior accordingly; however he is unable to control his emotions when something happens to trigger them. We saw that happen repeatedly at the beginning of the season.  It will happen in the finale because Lucifer will make sure it happens.  AU Michael will too probably... The point is that Jack will hurt someone inadvertently because he is a powder keg. Perhaps he will be the one to mortally injure Dean.  As a result he will have an emotional meltdown.  He may hurt AU Michael however he will not stop him.  AU Michael killing Gabriel and besting Lucifer, and presumably killing his own AU brethren, pretty much means that the two Michaels have to face each other.  It is an archangel thing. The two Castiels facing each other in "Exodus" clearly foreshadow this.  My prediction is that after comforting Jack, Sam and Castiel remove his grace and use it to send the refugees back to AU world.  
Team Free Will Status
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Dean!Michael goes a walking at the end of the episode.  As far as we know Dean remains broken and feels done with it all.  My guess is he needs a staycation.  Most likely I will have more speculation post finale...
Castiel and Sam are still alive. However, they spent so much time on that crazy, weird  primordial oily ooze god, POOGod, in the Empty I cannot help but wonder if there will be fifth act demented deus ex machina hijinks planned to jam in an already too busy episode. The first half of the season was chock-full of monsters that assumed the identities of other characters or wore masks, and we saw three powerful characters: Asmodeus, Gabriel and Loki, who were capable of the same magical shapeshifting transformations. I am expecting a twist involving someone hiding in plain sight and Castiel seems like the best bet because we have no idea what POOgod did to him before sending him on his merry way and Cas was giving us some strange facial expressions lovingly documented in close-up early post-resurrection. Of course my other wild speculation is that POOgod was a projection of crazy Michael who was awakened from his knitting by Dean's prayer and nephew Jack's emotional outbursts, and he finished what Jack started.
Jack and Mary...  
Jack is alive but he may go to live in the AU world having "grown up" there. I would love to see him move in with the Wayward Sisters too.
I really would hate to lose Mary and Dean's character arc is not over yet.  She still has work to do in my opinion.  Unfortunately a lot of fans hate her because the writers had the audacity to write her exactly the way they write her sons and not as some fantasy amalgamation of her teenaged self and Dean's cherished childhood memories of her in an apron wiping spittle from her adult sons' mouths.  With this in mind she could die trying to save them.  I will pour one out for her in that case.
Anyone Else...
I am really love New Ketch.  Good lad indeed.  He totally would have seen the ambush coming, shot all of the angels with angel bullets, stitched Charlie's wound, infused her with his own blood because he is a universal donor and carried her back to camp because he is Ketch.  The "Inglorious Bastards" montage was silly LOL writing.
Please do not have AU Charlie Sue stay.
Please do not have AU Bobby stay.  Ketch is better. Rowena is better. Castiel is better. Jack is better.  Mary is better. Teenaged vampire cave survivor is better.  We do not need him.
Kudos and Apologies to Andrew Dabb
So... I started out season 12 so meh on "Supernatural" that I was resigned to no longer tape the "Dabbler and Hacks" years and I planned to watch them only once. This will change next year. You sir have knocked my socks off this season with nuanced writing that handled Dean's emotional character driven storyline with aplomb and deftly tightened the plot threads, weaving them to their obvious conclusion: Apocalypse 2.0 and Dean!Michael.  And you drew upon Dean's family history beautifully turning the twelve past seasons of Supernatural into veritable Greek tragedy centering on Dean's tragic flaw, his sacrificial modus operandi, his outsized guilt, his depression and the fact that he is literally responsible for everything according to his father, according to God the father and most of all according to Dean. I am not rendered speechless obviously because I managed to finally type this out before the season 13 finale that I have been waiting for literally since the season 12 premiere. And I now refer to myself as the “Dabb Whisperer” because I think I am your one true audience shedding my one perfect tear of appreciation.  I thought some of the other characters arcs very well handled too and many of the episodes this season were fine. None were as good as “Reichenbach." They all should be as good as “Reichenbach.”
Now lest this goes to your head...
Please do a better job of editing Nepotism Duo scripts; always remember that they wrote a script with an African American woman in a dog collar calling a white man "Master".  Stop with the LOL canon, LOL world building, LOL writing and LOL plotting.  I know you can do better.  Canon IS important!!! So is PACING!!! Invest more money in the rubber monster suits for anything to do with the  "Wayward Sisters" rift storyline.  "Supernatural" is not a camp Saturday morning children's show nor a camp Japanese children's show; although there was nothing wrong with those types of franchises when they aired in the seventies.  And for goodness sakes let Briana Buckmaster have pink hair.  I have pink hair and it rocks.  Girls just want to have fun.
Next Time