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Bashing of John Winchester, by Elle2
John’s character is complicated to say the least, but has he been unfairly bashed in seasons of late?  My curiosity on this was sparked by hearing an interview with Jeffrey Dean Morgan in which he admitted that he’d not been watching the show, too busy and who can blame the man, but that he had heard that the character has been somewhat bashed of late. Since I’ve seen some comments to that effect throughout Season 5 mostly on BuddyTV, coupled with JDM’s comments, I thought I’d take a look at the character of John Winchester and see if he has truly been bashed or if it was something else going on; to me, it was something else.
So what do we know about John Winchester? We know that his little four-year-old son ran joyfully into his arms and was hugged and teased by dad whether little Sammy was ready to play football. We know that tragedy struck in an instant and that he did the only thing he knew to do in that moment, shove baby Sam into little boy Dean’s arms and told him to get out of the house, fully trusting that little Dean would obey, so that he, John, could go back and maybe, just maybe, rescue Mary.
From then on Season 1 teaches us that John raised his sons like warriors (The Pilot) and that he kept a tight rein on his sons regarding hunting (as per Sam’s amazement that Dean was hunting on his own, again, The Pilot.)
We know that John was highly organized (as per his motel room in The Pilot and the keeping of the journal) and that he trained his sons in military tactics (coordinates for directions). John was secretive and not cutting edge with technology (again, Sam’s amazement in Asylum that John had texted them a new set of coordinates). 
John’s expectation of orders being followed intensified from that of a normal father expecting his child to obey him to a drill sergeant expecting – nah, demanding that his soldiers fall into line. In Scarecrow Sam and Dean argue about who was the better son (and got the cookie) by following dad’s orders. In Bugs Dean tells Sam that respecting one’s father is to be expected while Sam counters that he did respect dad but felt he could never please the man. 
In Something Wicked we learn that John was so entrenched in his mission in life of hunting anything and everything evil that he left ten-year-old Dean to mind six-year-old Sam for several days while he hunted a shtriga, only to discover the shtriga was hunting his children (or was that perhaps something John already knew…there is room to believe that was a tactical move on John’s part). We also know that John was so upset that Sam was almost killed that he changed his behavior with Dean from that day on…at least as Dean perceived it. John may or may not have changed how he looked at Dean but Dean certainly believed that he did. (And if John actually had left his sons to be bait for the shtriga was he perhaps struggling with what kind of a father that made him, perhaps that’s why he was so hard on Sam growing up and didn’t let the boys hunt on their own…don’t know, just pondering)
Dead Man’s Blood brings us up front and personal with the Winchester family dynamic. Sam is itching for a fight with John and dogs him every step of the way about what they’re hunting, how he knows and where they’re going. Sam’s doggedness pushes John to showing a little bit of his hand, he proves it’s a vampire by clues he finds at a scene and then admits that the real reason he came running when he heard about Daniel Elkins being killed was that he believed the man may have a secret weapon, The Colt. Interesting that John didn’t come running when Dean was dying in Nebraska but he came running when Daniel Elkins was killed. Is it possible John kept tabs on Dean and Sam through Caleb during the events of Faith? Maybe. Is it possible that John knew about Roy Le Grange and got the info to Caleb to get to Sam? Don’t know. John didn’t come when Dean was dying, that we know.
Dead Man’s Blood brings us the tension between Sam and John as well as gives Dean a chance to show how the last year with Sam has changed his view on all things John Winchester as he stands up to John not once but twice. Then he follows it up again in Salvation. Dead Man’s Blood also shows us the softer side of John, the side we haven’t seen since The Pilot save a brief moment of pain at the end of Home. John shares with Sam that as a young father he planned for his sons’ education. He sacrificed what little money he had right from the beginning and began to save it so that his sons would be able to go to college and perhaps have even more chances at expanding their careers beyond what he had. (From what we know about John he never went to college, this is based on the events of In The Beginning)
While there is much to assume, presume and perhaps even condemn about the total lack of any information about John during the events of Faith we do know that John came, in response to Dean’s agonizing phone call, to Lawrence during Home. We also know that John came when called again regarding the possibility of confronting the thing that killed their mom during the events of Shadow. John may have been secretive but when there his sons called (again, except for Faith) John came.
By the end of Season 1 we are convinced that John is committed, obsessed; yes totally focused on killing the yellow-eyed demon; so much so that he’s willing to demand his youngest son kill him to bring about that end. What we learn in Season 2 shows that the self-sacrifice of John Winchester isn’t one dimensional and that he holds even more secrets.
Season 2 gives us only two appearances of John Winchester, but the character resonates far beyond those moments. In My Time of Dying is classic John Winchester, secretive and careful in choosing his words he keeps Sam in the dark about his intentions to deal with yellow eyes for Dean’s life. Each time Sam calls him on his lies he evades and misdirects through carefully chosen responses. Spirit/Dean isn’t fooled reminding us yet again that he knows his dad better than anybody. If John, as possessed by yellow eyes, couldn’t fool Dean into handing over The Colt in Devil’s Trap, John as John isn’t fooling spirit/Dean when he says that he has no idea what yellow eyes meant when he said he had plans for Sam and all the special children like him… “You’re sure hiding something.”
The rest of Season 2 John is shown to be someone who knew a whole lot about hunting and hunters and had a whole other life with the likes of Ellen and Jo Harvelle and was a participant at some level in the death of Bill Harvelle. All throughout Season 2 the resounding characterization of John Winchester was that Sam was focusing on hunting so that he could atone for not being as ‘good a son’ as he deemed he should have been (“You’re right, it is too little too late. I feel guilty as hell.” Everybody Loves a Clown) and Dean dealing with the sacrifice John made, his life for Dean’s and eternity in hell.

Season 3 gave us a little bit more insight into John, notably that he was absent during Christmas at least once when the boys were young but also that Dean holds memories of their father attempting to make Christmas special, beer can wreath and all. We also learn that John hid a lot more than just the presence of Jo and Ellen Harvelle and The Roadhouse he also hid weapons and supernatural charms and items in a storage room. Perhaps the biggest reveal of John Winchester in Season 3 was that he also secreted away little bits of his sons’ childhood that no doubt were precious and bittersweet at the same time to him. 
Imagine John Winchester alone on the road driving up to that storage room, entering and maneuvering around all the traps so that he could hide away something too dangerous to be left lying around.  Now imagine that as John enters that storage room he sees two items that are prominently displayed, Sam’s soccer trophy and Dean’s first home-made sawed off shotgun. More shades of that gentle man we first saw in The Pilot and heard in the wistful sound of John’s voice in Dead Man’s Blood as he reached out to Sam, and it resonates more when placed along side the John Winchester we’ll meet, as played by Matthew Cohen, in In The Beginning and again in The Song Remains the Same.
Season 4 gave us a lot of new information about John Winchester, and yet much of it isn’t so surprising after all when looking at the character as a whole. In The Beginning didn’t surprise me in that John wasn’t originally a hunter, we knew that all the way back in Home (“Went to Missouri and learned the truth.”) The surprise in In The Beginning was that Mary was the hunter. ITB gives us several glimpses of the John Winchester only hinted at in The Pilot. John was a positive young man who would buy a strange sounding stranger a cup of coffee without judgment; who was willing to buy a VW van because he promised the woman he loved (thankfully he knew good advice when he heard it and listened to the strange stranger and bought the Impala instead, whew!) John Winchester of 1973 was hopeful, friendly, untouched by the horrors of the war he’d been in and ready to live a happy, ‘normal’ life.
Jump the Shark didn’t degrade John Winchester for me at all.  John “slipped one past the goalie” (as Sam stated), we’ve been watching Dean and Sam have several one-night stands and have not condemned them. Sam was “shopping for rings and everything” regarding Jessica but I don’t remember any condemnation coming his way for his night with Madison so to think that John having a night with Kate Milligan would degrade the character makes no sense to me. That John didn’t know he had a son for several years also doesn’t say anything bad about the character, what he did after learning he had a son out of that liaison says volumes. John did the best he could in that extreme situation, he reached out on the boy’s birthday (if ghoul/Adam and real/Adam are to be believed) and made himself known. 



# LindaH 2010-08-17 23:51
Actually Nick was also able to hear Lucifer without a vessel, Lucifer created the illusion of Nick's wife, but it was not a vessel.

I totally agree with your analysis that John was not bashed in the seasons after JDM left. The actions that made John look bad happened in season 1 especially Something Wicked and Faith. Putting the responsibility of saving or killing Sam on Dean also added to the equation. But showing us John before Mary's death helped deepen and explain the character.

I also find it interesting that in many parts of fandom, when Sam complained about John and Dean defended him, the general consensus was that Sam was whining and Dean was right. As soon as Dean decides that John is a schmuck and Sam defends John, fandom agrees with Dean. It has bothered me that so much of fandom's view of John revolves around not what he did, but how it affected Dean.

I have always viewed John as being a good man, but after the trauma of Mary's death he lacked the resources to be a good father. He did an enormous amount of damage to both his sons, but he did the best he knew how.

John is complex, complicated and an enigma. He is probably unknowable due to the unavailability of JDM, although I would love for the writers to come up with a way to bring back Matt Cohen to play John, not as the dewey eyed boy that Mary married, but as the man who experienced life after Mary's death. I would dearly love to see the THREE Winchester men that we knew in season one meet and get to know each other. Sadly doing so probably would be a jump the shark moment.
# Evelyn 2010-08-18 01:33
Actually, Castiel originally thought that Dean would be able to hear him in his natural voice, I guess because he pulled him out of hell, which is why he tried to contact him those two times. Why Dean didn't understand is a good question.

Great analysis elle2. And you are right, Dean had always defended his father and didn't start talking about him as a dead beat dad until Season 4, when he was dealing with his own PTSD and sinking into the throes of depression. With Dean telling Sam that he is more like John than he will ever be, in Dean's mind it may be true, but I also believe that Dean is a lot like his father as well. He has the same never die attitude, the desire to help others, the skills of a hunter. Who was it that told him he was a better hunter than his father. I know Bobby told Dean he was a better man that John, but didn't somebody also tell him that in regards to hunting?

So, Dean should be proud of his father and proud that he carries many of his traits. I hope that after living a "normal life" for a year and having the experience of being a father, that Dean will come once again to truly appreciate everything that his father did for him and realize his Dad did the best he could and that he wasn't really a 'dead beat' in the worst of terms and that he will come to respect and look at John in a better light.
# Randal 2010-08-18 10:30
Great stuff, elle2. I'm glad to see the "rehab" of John, like the domestication of the dog, continue unabated. It's very movie-of-the-we ek to assume that after the death of the love of your life, especially in that horrific way, and with young children to take care of that a parent will go all Ned Flanders and be the very model of a Benjamin Spock relationship.

What makes the show real is that the heroes ARE flawed. John wasn't perfect, and Dean and Sam aren't either. They're real, and every couple (except the Flandereses) goes through problems and we get a glimpse of that in season five.

As for Cupid, I chalk that up to angel propaganda.
# Yirabah 2010-08-18 13:01
Wonderfully told elle2.

During the beginning of Season 1 I kept wondering with every new episode "Are they going to find their dad this time?" And when he finally appeared and gave Dean that huge hug and Sam that loving look I was a fan of John Winchester. Nothing can change that anymore. (Dany, Julie do you hear me?)

I always thought that his actions are very logical except the one where he asked Dean to kill Sam if necessary without explaining why.

Who should he have left the boys with after Mary was gone. Even if he would have stayed and worked as a mechanic. They both very likely would have ended up like they did anyways. Meaning Dean taking care of his little brother while dad was working.

We also know that every now and then he even dropped the boys of at a friends place while he was gone. They even stayed with the Harvells for a while but they were to young to remember that.

John Winchester tried to be a good father and do right by his sons. That is a lot more than you can say about some other fathers.
# Elle2 2010-08-18 15:59
Linda H, Evelyn, Randal and Yirabah,

Thanks for the wonderful comments.

Linda, I had forgotten about the fact that Lucifer appeared to Sam via an 'image' as well as in a dream. Perhaps it was the dream'walking' that allowed Sam to hear. Still not sure about John though. Either way, I think it has something to do with the bloodline aspect. Fun to ponder. :-)

John is a complex man and that's why I love the character, as Randal pointed out, he's human, very human, exactly because of his flaws (as well as Dean's and Sam's)

Evelyn, I'm hoping to see quite a bit of a change in Dean after a year of 'the apple pie life' it will be an interesting perspective for his character to carry on and very likely we'll see the very tensions that John dealt with regarding Adam and Kate Milligan, how to hunt and how to be involved.

Dean is a lot like John (just as Sam is) and Bobby showed great insight when he recognized John's inflexibility regarding Sam (If you're going to go, stay gone...somethin g like that) wasn't just inflexibility as it was fear, the inability to let go...we saw that with Bobby's words to Dean in Lucifer Rising and followed up on in Two Minutes to Midnight, what are you afraid of, Dean, losing, or losing Sam? Excellent question.

Randal, as usual you cut through the chatter and get to the heart of the matter...Ned Flanders indeed (although apparently that's what Ma and Pa Campbell thought of him...guess he showed them. Wonder what the new season will bring to the table on that.

Yirabah, Like you, I am a fan of John Winchester like I am a fan of all the Winchesters (and least the ones I've 'met' thus far). I guess the only reason I can come up with with regards to John not telling Dean everything he knew at the end of IMTOD is that yellow eyes was waiting to collect his ticket and there was only a short amount of time to do what needed to be know, that and by leaving it a secret we got four more seasons out of the whole thing but other than that... ;-)

Thanks for all the great comments...only five and a half weeks to!
# Yirabah 2010-08-18 17:40
About those five and a half weeks
# BagginsDVM 2010-08-21 16:20
I've always respected John, even when I didn't particularly like him ( yes, mainly in Faith when he didn't show up when Dean was dying)because I felt there was so much more to the character than we've ever seen. After all that he'd been through, he did the best he could to raise his boys & thought he was doing the right thing. Sure, he could have done things differently & maybe better, but always took responsibility for his actions, right or wrong. I cringed every time Dean called him a deadbeat dad, but I agree that was Dean's own depression & PTSD talking, not how Dean actually felt deep down. And that speech of Sam's in The Song Remains the Same...loved it! I hope we get to learn more of John's story, whether he's portrayed by JDM or Matt Cohen.
# Jasminka 2010-08-22 14:25
Elle2, so sorry, I'm late to this great article!

I agree with your assessment that JOhn was not bashed (no idea where that came from). To my mind it was a healthy development for Dean to see that his father was flawed, too, and that he became a bit more independent from this man who had been a kind of icon for Dean all his life, just as Sam managed to see some of the good sides of his father.

I think both brothers needed that to be able to move on and to grow. As Shakespeare said 'Nothing is good or bad, yet thinking makes it so', John wasn't entirely good or bad, but simply human - flawed, wounded, trying... Even I have begun to look at John winchester with a more benevolent eye (I used to only want to slap him, but that changed to a more empathetic view). I would like to see him again in the upcoming season, in a flashback or where ever...

Thank you for this article that needed a lot of work, I'm sure! Jas
# elle2 2010-08-23 18:00
Hi, BagginsDVM and Jas!

Glad you liked the article. John is a character I hope to see and learn more about. I give the SPN writers credit, they've managed to add to the character over the seasons with only two appearances of the characters since the end of Season 2.

Just watched Dead Man's Blood last night and was reminded of just how alone John was after Nov 2 1983 when he's talking to Sam and Dean and telling them that they are all he's got in the world...sheesh, how lonely he must have been.

I'd like to know what it is about his bloodline that lets Michael take him, Adam and Dean (well, never Dean but he wanted to) as vessels and what happened to his family that he had no one to support him.

I'm thinking Season 6 is likely to be light on those details (based entirely on one or two comments made about what to look for in Season 6 and it's more Mary's side than John's) but perhaps Season 7 will delve into the Winchester can always hope!

Thanks for the comments