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If Season three was about the self-actualization of Dean Winchester, then what was Season four about? A self-actualized man must face his character tests. Dean's ultimate season four test ends up being the test of faith. Not faith in God or angels, but faith in everything he believes to be right and what matters to him the most, family. No matter what situation he faces, he has to keep honoring that humanity rulebook, not gray the line between right and wrong, and be willing to die over what he believes no matter what or who tells him otherwise, including the angels. Including Sam.
Test of faith are one of the most infamous trials faced by common man. What makes Dean's case so extraordinary is that he never had faith in God before. He only believed what he could see. So when he's pulled from Hell, resurrected by an angel, called for duty by Heaven to prevent the apocalypse, forced to deal with his PTSD from life in Hell, and watched his brother transform into a monster, it's incredible any faith at all grew from that. Somehow, it got stronger. 
No one had a greater impact on Dean's character in season four than Castiel. What's even more fascinating is how Dean managed to have a huge impact on Castiel as well. From Castiel, Dean strengthened his resolve in the free will of man and exposed how flawed and immoral the other angels are. From Dean, Castiel learned that faith doesn't mean being blind and following orders. 
Despite all his trauma, Dean held up extremely well to his tests of character except one. He kept his blinders on when it came to Sam and the results were disastrous. Dean dealt with Sam the way he always did and didn't see how bad Sam was drowning from his burdens and loss of control. Of course, Dean had a lot of crap to deal with from the get go himself so his issues with Sam were understandable and perfectly normal. Plus Sam shouldered equal blame. Often times duty got in the way of family, even if that wasn't the intention.
Going through the episodes gives a great sense of all the tests Dean had to endure.
Lazarus Rising
Dean has a lot of crap to deal with in this one. I guess when you wake up six feet under in your own grave, that shakes you up a bit. After clawing his way out, Dean's left with the task to get answers for wtf happened. The answer he gets is even more jarring. Dean finally after a lifetime of denial has to face facts, God and angels are real. Enter Castiel, a force like none other he's ever had to deal with. They have work for him.
What's interesting is Dean's relationship with Sam resumes instantly with suspicion and mistrust. His very first thoughts are that Sam made a deal. Actually, that's his only theory, and his harsh accusations don't exactly keep their reunion heartwarming. While getting the story from Sam about what happened in Indiana and beyond, his mistrust still lingers when he asks Sam if he's using his powers. Not that Sam is right by lying, but he doesn't tell Dean the truth knowing that he would get mad at him and order him to stop (which is exactly what he did when he eventually found out). He'd rather let Dean go on thinking everything is still the same. Dean buys this for now, for he has other distractions. 
Are You There God? It's Me Dean Winchester
Dean is forced to ask those philosophical questions that anyone pushed into a test of faith asks. Why did God pick me? If there is a God, why is there so much misery in the world?   Naturally Dean doesn't get his answers, which frustrates him enough to lash out at Castiel and his vague "the Lord works in mysterious ways" answer. His new angel friend sets him straight though about the bigger picture. Seals are being broken one by one by Lilith and after 66, Lucifer walks free. So Dean not only has to accept God is real, but the Devil is as well. That's too much for a man to take on in a few days. 
In The Beginning
Being sent back into the past is sure fire proof that this angel thing is real. Again, Dean is tested. It's much the same test he faced in "What Is And What Should Never Be." Does he put the welfare of his family over the welfare of humanity? In WIAWSNB, the answer was easier because it was his own welfare he was sacrificing. Here, it ends up being his parents, and he's going to stop what happened consequences be damned. 
Castiel doesn't help Dean either by giving him false hope, thus suggesting this could be a test from higher up. He lets Dean believe he could save his parents by throwing him into the beginnings of the tragic Winchester family history. He sees how Mary and his grandparents were hunters.  How Mary hoped for a better life. How Mary's deal for John's life doomed Sam.  Castiel tells Dean he has to stop it, just about crushing Dean's heart when he finds out that wasn't about his parents. Of course once he finds out the real reason, that Sam is headed down a dangerous road since he's infected with demon blood and part of some endgame, Castiel literately puts the fear of God in Dean. "Stop him, or we will." You got to admit, it's a pretty powerful message for anyone, let alone someone who's had a very extraordinary few weeks. He rushes off to save Sam with some very big worry.
I'm not sure what Dean expected when he went to that warehouse, but one of his common reactions to fear is anger. Throw in a few feelings of betrayal and fists start flying. The two times Dean punches Sam and when he throws the lamp across the room is a pretty big clue to support that. Sam tearfully tries to explain, but Dean doesn't understand. "If I didn't know you, I would want to hunt you." Ouch! It's his turn to do the fear of God thing, telling Sam he was sent by angels and God to stop him. Sure, Dean is scared too and has every right to be, but that scolding doesn't help him with Sam. If anything, he ultimately ends up pushing Sam away. 
In Dean's defense, Sam did deserve the brunt of the anger, especially when he lets it slip that he knew about being infected with demon blood as a baby for a year. Dean has a right to be offended, but his sardonic attitude instantly shuts Sam up rather than gets them discussing it. Dean eventually forces an outburst from Sam with his stinging comment, "Nice dude but he's got something evil inside of him, something in his blood. Maybe you can relate."  Sam's outburst though is short lived.  Based on Sam's refusal to talk about his issues in the end, Dean didn't set things right.


# Bevie 2009-08-18 15:39
Hi Clarice

Just to let you know Alice did Sam's deeper look for Season Four on August 12, 2009.

Just go up top and look in the latest articles list.

And Alice, another great article!

Lol! Although I DO see chemistry between Dean and Anna. Different strokes I guess.
# Tigershire 2009-08-19 00:49
OK, first, loved the article Alice, nicely done. Now, back to When the Levee Breaks - at first I believed that the demon blood was doing all those nasty things to Sam as he started to detox, but.....

Yes, but. We know that Cas is the one who let Sam out. He broke circle and opened the door, etc. How much more could he have possibly done? All of it really. Cas could have flung Sam around the room. He could have inspired all those hallucinations (although I don't think he did). At this point Cas was in obedient soldier mode and NOT helping Dean. He was, in fact, helping Uriel even thought he didn't know it.

Then there was Ruby's comment at the end of Lucifer Rising....You didn't need the feather Dumbo, you had it in you the whole time.

Perhaps the detox was augmented by Cas????

# elle 2009-08-19 11:42
Excellent article! I enjoyed the look at Dean's journey and the idea that he was subject to character tests. I am really curious to see the result of these tests in Season Five.

Tigershire, you make an interesting observation that Cas could have been puppeting Sam during his seizure. My understanding of the demon blood addiction that afflicts Sam is that while he didn't need the blood to activate his powers, the addiction was still true. I think that Ruby got Sam hooked so he was dependent on her and more pliable and swayed to her suggestions. I do believe he was addicted in the truest sence of the word, like any drug addict or acoholic. Intriguing to think about though.
# Tigershire 2009-08-20 01:10
Elle, Yes, now that I think about, I agree. The sweats, etc would have definitely be a withdrawal thing. Still, I wonder about how much Cas was involved. The Angels wanted Sam out of that panic room and Cas was still believing in Uriel at this point.

I guess part of the reason I wonder is, with the Devil's Traps on the floor and ceiling, and all the "anti-demon" stuff around, wouldn't it have had some effect on Sam? I mean, sure he never had as much demon mojo as a full on demon, but for the blood to have the effect of tossing him around the room seems pretty heavy weight to me.

Ah, just the rabid thoughts of fan nearing the end of hellatius......
# Suze 2009-08-22 17:17
Tigershire, that is SO sneaky ...

Cunning as a bag full of weasles. You totally had me going for a few minutes but I don't think all the cold turkey was Cas-induced as we saw Sam hurting on other occasions and if the whole thing was psychosematic and/or Angels messing with his head then the addict recovery storyline they've been touting for S5 ( soon ... soon ... be calm ... ) is going to be a touch on the short side ... ;-)
# Tigershire 2009-08-22 18:52
Hey Suze - what kind of SuperN fan would I be if I didn't over analyze the show hey! GRIN

Actually, I never did think Cas caused the hallucinations but when he peeked out from the side of the panic room after Sam bugged out....I said, out loud to the TV no less, "How long have you been there?" My eyes even went all squinty as I peered at him on my TV screen.

Not to mention that I think Cas had a bit of a hand in getting both Dean and Bobby to take a nap right when Sam needed to leave. But it's speculation on my part there too.

The whole deal is highly suspicious, is all.

And with 5 days til I head to Vancouver, I'm feeling a bit twitchy - GRIN.
# Lolita 2009-10-11 14:20
I want to know something! Like, why did Sam leave Dean in the hotel room, when the Levee Breaks? He was after killing Lilith, because she was holding the deal Dean made when he sacrificed himself for Sam? So pretty much Sam is revenge-driven against Lilith, whereas Dean is not? I am really confused, it's an awesome series, and being confused is good (means it's complicated), but can someone explain please?
# Lolita 2009-10-12 01:34
Oh, you actually answered me, I feel so special, haha! Love you, Alice.

I still need to get why Sam wants to Lilith at the first place. Is it because she killed Dean? That she held his deal? So the whole revenge thing he has going actually is based on the fact it's all to receive 'justice' (wow, he really is lawyer material!) for what she did to Dean? I just thought of that, it makes sense. Because I always went along that he wants to kill Lilith, and just never really *thought* why.