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Retro Open Supernatural Couch - In My Time of Dying
Lessons in Disrupting the Natural Balance
Today I look back at one of the most painful episodes of our beloved show. Before you ask - yes, I might occasionally be a masochist par excellence. Today is one of those days, I reckon, when I snuggle onto my cosy couch and enjoy a Winchester ache fest. Would you like to join me, kind readers?
The second season opener, In My Time of Dying, brought new terrors to the Winchester clan and fed the silently burning fire of guilt within both brothers.
With the opening sequence and Ted Nugent's Stranglehold I'm transported back to a time both brothers were (or rather looked) considerably younger. And more innocent in terms of traumatic, ugly moments"¦ But, as we well know, it hasn't remained so.
Sometimes I am amazed, again and again, at the chains these men have been dragging on the frozen ground of their memories, often imprisoned behind the bars of their unforgiving fates in this episode, there won't be a key to that dungeon"¦
Allow yourselves to be brought back to the end of Season One, kind readers, and remember the terrible car crash, the cliff-hanger that made many of us (including yours truly) biting our nails to see what had happened and who survived. With the show just finding its course and not yet safe in the saddle of TV-land, anything was possible"¦
The Impala is a wreck. What a sad picture. In the dark, its black metal still shines, but the night mercifully veils the car's wounds - and those of its passengers. All, all are injured. No one is moving. Only Sam slowly comes around, immediately alert, the magic colt cocked. And the demon who actually believes Sam would not shoot him, probably has never encountered a man of his determination. But at this point, assuming his family might be dead, I believe Sam would not care about saving a bullet. He would do anything to protect what's left of his family, if that were only their bodies. Finally, the demon runs - at this point surely the smartest decision of its pitiable existence - leaving the miserable truck driver to realize what happened. I can't help it - I feel so sorry for this poor, innocent man. We will never learn how he fared after this horrific accident, but I'd say it's safe to assume that he needed help afterwards. And perhaps some months of therapy.
"Dad? Dad"¦?" Sam tries to look to the back seat. "Dean? Dean!!!"
There is no answer. Instead it's (eventually) daylight. I reckon the truck driver finally made it to a phone and called emergency services. Our poor Winchesters had to remain stuck in the car for hours, till help finally arrived.
"Tell me if they're okay!... Are they even alive?" Oh, Sammy"¦
Oh, God, we don't know. The moment Dean wakes up, my heart skips a beat (Yes! He's alive!), but an instant later I grasp that he wouldn't be capable of walking around the way he does after having been found in a car crash, unresponsive and severely wounded. Dean, apparently, doesn't think of that, yet, that is.
On the same floor as pathology (oops), Dean begins looking for Sam and John - and realizes, together with us, that something is very wrong. There's panic in his face as he begins searching more frantically - ending up finding himself, intubated, machines monitoring his vital signs. Supernatural's version of ER strikes me as creepy and cruel"¦
Dean just stands there, a while, watching his body and slowly comprehending that he actually emerged from the accident as some kind of spirit. But his face lights up the moment a worried Sam enters the room. Dean is overjoyed that his baby brother is alive, but also struck heavily by Sam's almost inconsolable demeanour.
"Oh, no", Sammy whispers, and I silently watch his scarred face, the cuts and bruises, and the blood on his jacket. His face devoid of the addictive life we often find there"¦ he looks lost, his lovely head bent low, fear creeping into his eyes, yet steeling himself for enduring this moment.
"Man, tell me you can hear me"¦ how's dad? Is he okay? Come on, you're the psychic! Give me some ghost whispering or something!"
"Your father's awake", the doctor interrupts. "You can go see him, if you like."
Dean exclaims: "Oh, thank God!"
"Doc, what about my brother?" Sam's foremost concern is the one he feels closest to.
"Well, he's sustained serious injuries. Blood loss, contusions to his liver and kidney." How typically sober this report comes out of the doc's mouth. And I wonder how many of these injuries were a result of the accident and what was damaged by Yellow-Eyes while he tortured Dean in the previous episode. He lost a significant amount of blood there, already. "But it's the head trauma I'm worried about. There's early signs of cerebral oedema."
"What can we do?"
"Well, we won't know his full condition until he wakes up. If"¦ he wakes up."
Another punch to Sam's belly. "If?"
Dean, in the mist of spirit world, protests, but is not heard.
"I have to be honest. Most people with this degree of injury wouldn't have survived this long. He's fighting very hard (yes, that's Dean!). But you need to have realistic expectations, son."
"Come on, Sam", Dean goes on, determined, "go find some hoodoo priest, lay some mojo on me! I'll be fine!"
He doesn't know yet, and even Sam barely realizes, that Dean's words manifest in Sam's mind as ideas. He doesn't know, yet. As his dad - who probably never looked more attractive - gives him the insurance card of Elroy McGillicuddy (hm"¦ is John secretly a fan of I Love Lucy? (Mcgillicuddy was her name) Or is he in love with Ireland or a secret member of New Zealand's Mcgillicuddy Highland Army? Sorry"¦ that name was ringing a few bells in my head!), father and son slowly drift into another heavy fight"¦
Sam is shaken, frightened, desperate not to lose his brother and naturally reacts to Johns questions and remarks like a wounded animal driven into a corner - he lashes out. "Your son is dying, and you worry about the colt?!" His voice is coloured with contempt. Not for the first time he sees his father through a glass darkly.
And how could he not in this moment. Not only is Sam startled because of Dean's severe condition, he also battles inner demons of his own - he hasn't had time, yet, to digest what Yellow-Eyes said to him (in his father's body, which was even more appalling)"¦ that he had plans for him, and children like him"¦. And he shot his father. It's a bit much for any young man.
As John sends him on an errand - to have Bobby get him some magic ingredients, among them Oil of Abramelin, he will have time enough to think. Hm"¦ Oil of Abramelin"¦ interesting! I would like to know the ritual John is going to perform in detail. This oil is well-known in the occult world, deriving from an ancient Jewish anointing oil, a blend of various oils (e.g. myrrh, cinnamon, calamus) which Alistair Crowley referred to as Oil of Aspiration. Effective to cast love spells. But calling a demon? I can't help it, I'm intrigued.
Not for long, though, since I am captured by Dean's doubting expression, sensing that his father is not entirely speaking the truth"¦ Already planning to summon the demon, John blatantly lied to his younger son's face. So, at this very moment, I'm inclined to agree with Sam to some degree - John isn't sufficiently showing concern for his eldest son, but plotting against their enemy. The Winchester obsession with revenge in action, again.
As Sam makes it clear to Bobby that they need to save the Impala, he's actually speaking of his severely injured brother. "If there's only one working part, that's enough! We're not just giving up on"¦" It's a wonderfully played out scene. Sam can't do much to help Dean right now, but he can at least try to save his car, thereby symbolically saving his brother - and his own hope that is on the brink of being taken from him. But then, quickly, his attention is drawn to his father's enigmatic plans, as he makes Bobby explain to him what is going on. A storm is gathering.
Not only is some thunder coming from Sam's building rage, but also a twister of despair in Dean's soul, as he watches John sitting by his bed, seemingly doing nothing.
"Come on, dad, you gotta help me! I gotta get better, I gotta get back in there"¦ You haven't called a soul for help! You haven't even tried! Aren't you gonna do anything? Aren't you even gonna say anything? I have done everything you've ever asked me. Everything! I've given everything I've ever had! Are you just gonna sit there and you're gonna watch me die? What the hell kind of father are you?!"
This is painful. Oh God. Dean used to be the one who had faith in John no matter what. And this faith is being shaken now in a manner that must tear a terrible hole in Dean's soul. He is forced to doubt the man he has put on a pedestal as the best man he has ever known. The man whose honour he would have defended against anyone. The man he trusted and looked up to. And loved unconditionally. One can only imagine how utterly betrayed Dean must feel at this moment.
This episode, in many ways, works wonderfully in reverse. When I watched this scene for the first time, I cursed John's passivity and was just as angry as Sam and Dean over his Machiavellian character traits. But watching it again after finding out what John was truly planning and the sacrifice he made, it softened my idea of this man. He made many mistakes as a father, God knows, but to give your life for your child"¦ There can't be greater love.
For a blessed moment Dean is distracted from his angry despair aimed at his father and figured out that a spirit must be haunting the hospital, just in time to see Sam come back. Oh, Sammy"¦ again I'm amazed at how similar Sam's reactions sometimes are to mine. When I get really mad, I tend to become very, very quiet, too. At first.
Of course Sam found out what John actually asked him to get. He just doesn't know the reasons, yet.
"You're planning to bringing the demon here, aren't you, having some stupid macho show down."
"I have a plan, Sam."
"That's exactly my point: Dean is dying, and you have a plan! You know what, you care more about killing this demon than you do about saving your own son!"
"Do not tell me how I feel!" Finally. Some emotion from John. "I am doing this for Dean!"
"How?! How's revenge gonna help him?" This is a painful, yet clear example of how Sam's own wish for revenge clouds his mind and makes him assume that it's all about revenge. He's not entirely wrong, alas, he misses one important factor - John's attempt to save Dean. In his own way.
"You're not thinking about anybody but yourself, it's the same selfish obsession!"
"You know what? I thought it was your obsession, too! This demon killed your mother, killed your girlfriend. You begged me to be part of this hunt! Now if you killed that damned thing when you had a chance, none of this would have happened!"
"It was possessing you, dad, I would have killed you, too!"
"Yeah, and your brother would be awake right now!"
"Go to hell."
Oh, dear. That's great, John. Put it all on Sam's shoulders. That's really fair. Have you any idea what it would have meant for your son to kill his own father? Even asking that of him was too much. If you were so keen to kill the demon, you should have grabbed the colt the short moment you took back control and done it yourself. And now you're blaming Sam for Dean's condition? I wish I could slap you, John Winchester!
Dean, trying desperately to make them stop, full-on swayzes a glass. And, finally, they stop butting their heads. They know something is going on. Something utterly horrific - Dean coded. Asystole, cardiac arrest. A team of doctor and nurses is trying to get him back by shocking him. As Sam watches helplessly with his biggest fear somewhat manifesting as reality, Dean fights back the spirit that appears over his battered body.
As Dean's heart is back in sinus rhythm, Sam begins to know that he heard Dean's voice. It will result in him bringing a quija board.
But first Dean meets Tessa, seemingly another spirit trapped in a strange in-between stadium. Surprisingly, Tessa is dealing very well with the situation. She offers that the idea of fate helps her deal, while this triggers a natural Winchester reaction: "Well, that's crap. You have a choice. You can roll over and die or you can keep fighting." Of course. Dean doesn't believe in some kind of higher order that decides when your time is up. At this point, he even denies himself the idea that there might be God watching. Unfortunately, in the future he will be proven wrong in the worst possible and most agonizing way.
"You're gonna make fun of me for this, but there's one way we can talk," Sam begins, as he enters Dean's room, taking his mystical talking board out of a paper bag.
"Oh, you gotta be kiddin' me!"
No, Dean, dear, he's not. This time Sam is dead serious. And the whole thing works! Dean is able to inform his brother about the reaping that's going on in the hospital, knowing that "if it's here naturally, there's no way to stop it." Meaning that Dean actually could die"¦ "I'm screwed, Sam."
This is a great scene altogether. And it's not easy to act. To interact and at the same time to not interact. Both do a wonderful job here, brilliant young actors!
The Winchester stubbornness is of capital help here. Sam is not willing to accept that the reaper is after Dean and simply leave that be. "Dad will know what to do." Unfortunately, dad wandered off, preparing a summoning ritual in the boiler room, despite his promise to Sam not to hunt the demon until they knew that Dean would be better.
But Sam doesn't linger, grabs dad's journal and rushes back to Dean's room, going through the pages to find something useful.
"Thanks for not giving up on me, Sammy." I can only assume how deeply touched Dean must feel at this moment. He believes that the one man Dean devoted his whole life to abandoned him, his dad, and the brother with whom Dean had been at odds for quite a while is here, fighting for his life. If Dean ever had any doubts about Sam's determination to be a family again, this was proof. And relief, I'd say.
Which doesn't last long. Dean truly finds valuable information in the journal. And immediately he deduces who Tessa really is. Elementary, Watson! "You're much prettier than the last reaper I met."
She, being sympathetic to the extent a reaper can be, tries so console Dean. "Death is nothing to fear." She's right, to my experience. We don't have to fear it. But that doesn't mean that we should simply accept it. "It's your time to go, Dean. You're living on borrowed time, already." To hear that will much later make Dean think hard about how he was able to recover. With a body dying, a miracle was not to be expected. Certainly not within the Dean-Winchester-belief-system. Only supernatural powers could change that. And he will soon and excruciatingly discover which one that was. Oh, Dean"¦
This episode is so well done and always breaks my heart.
Some of my favorite moments are in this very episode. The Ouija board scene is one of my all time favorites. It's amazing how well acted it really is when you watch the behind the scenes footage and see how they put some of it together.
If there was ever a question that Sam didn't care for Dean as much as Dean cares for Sam, this episode proves that it is a mutual thing. Sam is trying everything he can think of or is aware of at this time to save Dean. He can't and won't let him go. And if it hadn't been for John's deal, he would have failed. We can only imagine what would have happened to Sam and John had Dean died and no deal made. Either way, we KNOW that Sam cares very much for Dean, and it is reflected again in "The Man Who Knew Too Much" when he decides to shoulder the memories in the Cage to return to Dean.
This is also the episode that sets off the ultimate chain reaction---as far as we knew up to this point before "In the Beginning" reveals the first deal maker. Without John's deal, Dean dies, but no seal is broken, either. We wouldn't have had Dean's deal as he would be dead. Sam could have given into the YED sooner. We just don't know.
Thank you so much for recapping this wonderful episode. I'm totally with you on the boys. They worm their way into your heart, and once they do that, they're there for life.
It will come as no surprise to you that I just loved this. As you know this has, and will always have, a very special place in my heart as it was `my first one`.
It is interesting to remember how I felt on that first viewing and compare that to the effect it has on me now when I have a slightly more informed knowledge of these boys. Of course when I watched for that first time I had no idea about Sam and Dean Winchester or their back story. All I knew is that I was instantly drawn into this world.
By the end of the episode I wanted to know more about them and where they went after this. I did not care, or even realise that I should care, about their mangled wreck of a car, it`s just a car right? Now I think back, with shame I must admit, to my reaction when I saw the spoiler pic from `The man who knew too much` of the Impala overturned, I ranted about `Baby` being broken for a good 10 minutes to a friend before I suddenly thought, `Crap! Who was driving`? I had no idea who or what the YED was, or even what was happening when all the black smoke spewed forth from the truck driver`s mouth. But I wanted to know more, I was moved by this boy and his reaction to his father`s whispered message and I wanted to know more!
Now of course I have lost count of the number of times I have seen this, unsurprisingly it is one I return to regularly. It is, as you say, incredibly moving, John`s speech to Dean when he tells him he is proud of him and apologises for making him grow up too fast tears me apart every time, if only he had said this a few years before and with more regularity, of course now I want to slap him for piling yet more responsibility onto his son, I know why he had to do it, but there was more than enough weight laying there already. I would have loved him to be able to acknowledge that this is his goodbye to his youngest son, I know that he can`t but I want Sam to have his `goodbye` moment.
One thing that I do find interesting is that I remember thinking then when I watched, `these boys are cute `, now when I watch I think, `they are so beautiful`. Sometimes our reactions to them may be `shallow`, but I think that these reactions are not based purely on the physical, now I `know` them, and now I see this beauty. Despite what some might think, this show is so much more than pretty faces.
I must now stop as this is an episode I could wax lyrical (or ramble on) about for ages, and this is a comment not another article. Thank you so much for the invitation to spend time on the couch contemplating what will always be one of my top episodes
It's so true - it's way more than just a few happy faces that made 'scary sexy'. That would not have glued us to this show in the way we are... The fascination of a pretty face lasts only so long.
There is so much more that touches our hearts. And I am very sure that this show will continue to do so as long as it will be on air!
Thank you! Love, Jas
I love the transition from "cute" to "beautiful". So true.
We knew Sam cared very deeply about his brother from "Faith", he would not let Dean die in that episode either. And when you think about, he would have, because as you said that's what life is, you live and then you just don't know when your time is up, could be today, tomorrow or years from now. But we don't have the luxury to choose. These boys have always made that choice and paid for it time and again. I'm sure season 7 will be no exception.
These wonderful actors bring Sam & Dean to life so brilliantly that we feel compelled to follow them wherever they go, Heaven or Hell for as long as this beautiful show will be on.
I reckon masochism of a special kind runs in the supernatural-fa n-family, don't you think? We love to be tortured by what the writers come up with for the guys...
They make the Winchesters pay... for sins they committed and those they didn't... I hope they will get the odd break in season seven...
Thank you! Jas
The couch is comfy like always, and the cookies are delicious.
Thanks for the lovely look back at a true classic. This is an episode I go back to again, and again, sometimes just in my mind. It really does sum up so much of what Supernatural is about -- love, and how far you will go to save someone you love.
It's fascinating to reflect on this episode as we await the start of Season 7, because it quietly and subtly introduces so many future plot points:
- A secret Dean must keep from Sam ( I just read a new, more detailed synopsis of Season 7 which suggests that idea.)
- The possibility of selling your soul to save someone you love. (I remember reading an interview with Eric Kripke where he said that the writers knew Season 2 would be bookended by Winchesters selling their souls. It's so poetic in retrospect.)
- Dean receiving praise or a compliment is usually a harbinger of something bad.
- And it certainly illustrates the lengths each brother will go to save the other.
I've also always loved the character of Tessa. (I'd be thrilled to see her in Season 7.) She's sweet at first, and then once revealed as a reaper, she's still compassionate but so much more direct and matter-of-fact. I've always taken her comment "living on borrowed time" to mean Dean should have died after the electrocution in "Faith", which suggests the boys have been playing with the natural order (and pissing off Death) for a very long time indeed.
Speaking of Tessa, I too believe Dean was going to go with her, which would have been very brave and courageous of him. Just the thought of leaving the family he had always fought for, and protected was excrutiating for him. The moment he would have said "yes" would have been soulsearing. But Dean must have felt it would be worse for John & Sam to have to destroy him later as a venegeful spirit than to just bury his body and move on with their lives (as if they could have done that!)
I do find John fascinating in this episode because you get a glimpse of how much he loved the boys, but then to twist a knife into Dean's heart like that -- "I'm proud of you son. Take care of your brother. And um, you may have to kill him in the future." Ugh. Kills me everytime.
But from my perspective as a Mom, what I find really intriguing is that John never touches Dean, while Dean is in the coma. Nothing. Not a clasping of the fingers, not even a stroking of the hair. I think a physical sign of affection would have shown Spirit!Dean just how much John loved him. (Of course it might have ruined the dramatic tension of the scene too, but that's beside the point!)
I know when my daughter was in hospital, hooked up to IV's, and her condition uncertain, I wanted to be in constant contact. I couldn't fight off whatever was making her so sick, but I could give her strength. I felt that by touching her I could somehow channel all my strength and love into her. Also, I superstitously believed that nothing bad could happen to her as long as I was holding her. Watching your child (of whatever age) suffer in hospital is truly one of the cruelest and most helpless experiences of parenting. And like I've said before, it does heighten your belief in the Supernatural - good Gods and evil Devils both.
There is so much to ponder, and adore in this episode, but I've been so very long-winded already (without saying much new I fear).
Thanks for this!
I was at my mother's bedside when she was dying, and I held her hand and talked to her until she passed. To think that a loved one would have to pass on without having reassurances from the ones they've loved the most is just so sad. I hope your daughter is alright, I can't imagine going through something like that with a child, it's bad enough with a parent.
This little show may be fiction, but it brings alot of emotions to the fore.
I missed that when my parents died. When they passed, I was like out of the room for a wee short time. I used to be so very sad because of that and felt guilty, but then I imagined that they chose to go when I was not around. It would suit their character, perhaps trying to not bring too much pain on me or so...
But I spent days and nights on their bedside, holding their hands or hugging them... and I know it was soothing to them, as it was to me. I'm sure it was soothing for you, too. I hope it was.
It's so amazing - this show is more authentic than most shows rooted in reality...
Take care, Jas
Thank you! I agree with your view of the lacking physical contact between John and Dean... I think it's quite natural for a parent to touch their children when they're sick - or even on the brink of death.
I can only assume that John (since we know that he loved Dean) perhaps held back because he was afraid that his emotions (fear, anger, perhaps dispair) would overrun his carefully kept resolve. In dubio pro reo, eh?
Thank you. And - feel free to help yourself to the cookies anytime. There are some ginger ones to your left ...
I really enjoy reading your "supernatural open couches". You give me so much to think about. This is such a great episode; a real heart-breaker. Just as in "real-life" we see people missing moments to connect or misinterpreting others words or actions.
I think like everyone else, John's speech to Dean in the end had been a long time coming and was deserved-but, when he added that little caveat about having to kill your brother. It just negated any good feelings Dean might have had.
As a teacher, I try to be especially careful with the "You did a great job with...but..."b ecause we (or maybe just I) tend to focus on the negative part of the sentence.
One thing that has always puzzled me: In On the Head of A Pin, Alastair said that John was supposed to break the first seal. Yet, Castiel claimed that the only one who could stop it, was the one who broke the seal.Both Michael and Gabriel claimed that the two brothers were always the ones who had to fight the final battle (although in the end, they substituted a half-brother).
Also, if John was supposed to break the first seal, wouldn't the angels have tried to pull him out before that happened. I have to conclude that Alastair was just using that to make Dean feel like "less a man" than his father. What do you think?
I'd say you're doing it the right way as a teacher - being careful about the "...,but..." phrases. Mostly, people and in particular young people like teens tend to focus on the negative part of such a sentence, true. Kudos to you for trying to keep it positive for them!
That's a good question, Marilyn. You have a point there - would the angels not have taken John our of hell before he could break the seal... Probably. I guess it was a slip in the writers' minds.
On the other hand - it would be very Alistair to use that to hurt Dean. He succeeded. It did strike Dean like a whip.
Gosh, that would be such a great question for a convention...
Again, thank you! Jas
"Men talk about their feelings.
'Eh, Peter, I got a feeling it's gonna rain soon.'
'Yep, Paul, I got that feeling, too.'