I got back from vacation to some wonderful news about the upcoming season four from the Supernatural panel at Comic Con this weekend. For those interested in what was said, go to Supernatural Wiki for full reports. As excited as I am about the new season (and still trying hard to avoid spoilers), I'm still not done deconstructing all the great things from the previous ones. It's all I've got to kill time during the hiatus.
All season long, on Supernatural message boards, from comments on this blog, from comments on other blogs, I've read plenty of bitter disappointment by some over the direction of Dean Winchester's character in season three. I tried to take stock in these arguments, but when I went back through the episodes, all I saw was some spectacular character growth. Since "Dream A Little Dream of Me" came up again on Thursday, the episode that presents with an exclamation point a life changing event of self-actualization, I'm going meta on you all and examining the stunning evolution of season three Dean Winchester. Even I was surprised with the results.
The idea of self-actualization comes from Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs. Sure, the entire theory can be dismissed as a bunch of psychobabble, but after going through the condensed explanation for dummies on Wikipedia, it made some good points and sparked the whole thought process. Self-actualization is simply explained as "what a man can be, he must be." It cannot be pursued until basic needs, physiological, safety, love/belonging, and esteem, are met first. The latter two are where Dean has so far been tripped up the most, evidenced from last season's finale when he held Sam's life in higher regard than his own. Many would see such an act of self-sacrifice as noble, and Dean probably did at the time, thinking he was following his father's example, but we saw how Dean primarily acted out of fear, guilt, and low regard for self. If anything, his deal caused a rift in his relationship with Sam.
In season three, Dean overcame quite a few hang-ups and in the end became the man he was always meant to be. Could he have been motivated by taking stock in his life since he only had a year to live? Maybe. Could this be the end result of natural growth from trying forge his own identity since his dad's death? Maybe. It's probably both. Before Dean could get over his own personal blockades, he had to step out of his father's shadow, strengthen his relationship with Sam, and acknowledge his own self-worth. In Dean's world, that's a huge mountain to climb. Somehow, he managed to do all that, as evidenced by the progression of several key episodes.
The Kids Are Alright
This is where the whole thought process begins. As with "What Is and What Should Never Be", Dean gets another glimpse of the life he always wanted, and again, he walks away for the sake of saving others. We feel every bit of his heart crumble when he finds out Ben isn't his son, and wonder along with him what life would be like if he was. Hunting and protecting Sam is still his only identity, and here he makes his final choice. This isn't his life, and he has to make the most of the one he's got.
Sam is all Dean has, and protecting him still means everything, but he begins to realize that maybe bringing back Sam and paying that price with his life might not have been the wisest move. He learns from Casey what the plan was for Sam and what he's capable of. He sees Sam coldly blow away the demons and it unnerves him. Couple that with the idea yellow eyes planted that Sam may not have been brought back right and now Dean sees grey in that black and white world of his. From this point forward, the idea is in the back of his mind that maybe he can't keep Sam safe, since he can't save Sam from himself.
Fresh Blood/A Very Supernatural Christmas
Family is what matters the most to Dean. In these episodes Dean reconnects with Sam, something that is vital to him for closure and moving on. He honors Sam's wishes, going back to being the role model his little brother needs in "Fresh Blood". His show of faith paid off at the end of "A Very Supernatural Christmas", with Sam giving him a Christmas celebration despite his deep wounds over the holiday. That was the ultimate sign of respect and Dean desperately needed that, for now he'll respect himself as well. Mending family issues allows him to go forward.
Dean's sense of purpose takes a real beating in this one. He's striven for approval his entire life, never got it from his father, gets it minimally from Sam. He's now caught in a lose/lose situation where he's going to become what he hunts and something he loathes and despises. The further confirmation from Ruby that he can't be saved from Hell triggers the ultimatum inside of him. Either he uses the time he has left fighting and making a difference, or wallowing in misery. This parallels what he faced in "In My Time of Dying", but this time, he doesn't have guilt from his father hanging over his head.
Dream A Little Dream Of Me
Here we have it, finally, the thunder crashing, the ray of light filtering through the cloudy skies, the whack you in the head type of blow that happens when a character-defining moment is unveiled and long overdue. Dean finally acknowledges his own self-worth. It only took 54 episodes!
All kidding aside, this was a major breakthrough. Granted, some may perceive fighting himself in a dream to be heavy-handed, but hey, whatever works. He drops the whole "John is a hero" act and admits he was an obsessed bastard. He admits taking care of Sam was John's idea. He admits he didn't deserve the crap John put on him. He admits he doesn't deserve to go to hell. He's essentially admitting that after years of sucking it all up, he's mad as hell and can't take it anymore. Right on. That blows any esteem complexes he's had to bits.
Jus In Bello
Here he is, the new and improved Dean Winchester, and man, does he look great. Let's look at some of the traits of a self-actualized person. Clearer perception of reality (the world's going to end bloody, and he's going out swinging). Check. Acceptance of self and others (honest and open, laying it all on the line, sugarcoating nothing, but still being supportive). Check. Spontaneous and creative (coming up with the entire demon showdown, mass exorcism thing, thinking fast on his feet, managing a crisis with cool head). Check. Ethical (A clear definition of right and wrong, distinguishes between means and ends, aka, "If that's how you win wars, I don't want to win"). Check. Philosophical and unhostile sense of humor. Okay, he's always had that, but he still had it here. I could go on and on, but there is only so much space on this blog.
The entire episode, Dean was in control. He didn't waver from the situation, kept his morality in check where Sam's failed, didn't play into the demon's hands of having to choose who should be saved, and looked really badass doing it. His mantra from now to the end of the season is cemented; he's going down his way. This is finally a self-confident Dean, a more in tune with himself Dean, a less desperate Dean, and it's the healthiest emotionally he's ever been. Yep, that was the sound of fan girls everywhere swooning and thudding on the floor.
Long Distance Call
Okay, remember that confident Dean part? There's a slight slip here, but it allowed us to see that there's still frayed edges in Dean's new psyche. The only person he could ever rely on to get him out of something was his dad, so when he gets calls from beyond the grave, how could he not trust it? How could he accept Sam's skepticism? He admits to Sam in the end how scared he is, and it's understandable. The end is almost near. Who wouldn't lose it with time running out? He's not perfect, but manages to display so with a great deal of maturity by admitting his shortcomings and moving on.
Time Is On My Side
Dean starts to think maybe going to Hell is the better option, especially after he meets Rufus Turner. He draws a huge moral line here, and hopes to show Sam by example that life it only worth living if you can be the best possible person. He's not going to live like a monster, he's not going to turn into something evil and inhuman just for the sake of living. In a way, the message indirectly addresses Sam's temptation to go dark. Dean hopes to show through this example that giving in to compromises isn't worth it.
No Rest For The Wicked
He went out fighting. He went out his way. The Dean Winchester that went to Hell in the finale was well adjusted, and self-respected. This was his final shot to keep Sam in check, to let him know by example that they weren't going to play into these demon's hands anymore. No more being martyrs, no more offering each other's souls. He was ending it. He admits this is his fault, and he's claiming full responsibility for his actions, ready to accept the consequences. We see his regret over making the deal, but at the same token, he seems proud to be the one to end it. "Remember what Dad taught you, Remember what I taught you." Still sobbing!
Of course, we are all left to wonder now if Dean and his newfound sense self-fulfillment will continue now that he's seen Hell. The place has a way of breaking people, so what direction will his character go next? Less than two months before we find out. The official date for the premiere of season four is now September 18, confirmed by Dawn Ostroff at last weeks' TCA press tour.
As usual, this is one reviewer's opinion, so go ahead, feel free to challenge anything written here. I'm sure my skewed view of things is not accepted by all. Next week, something even more ambitious, I take on the evolution, or should I say slow descent, of Sam Winchester's character in season three, in honor of his psyche-breaking moments in "Mystery Spot". That is a much darker place to be. Should be fun!