Largest Review/Discussion Fansite for Supernatural and SPNFamily Shows! Plot/Character Analysis, Spoilers, Games, News, Gallery, Interviews, Fun!

The Problem with Pygmalion: The Fear of the Make-Believe in Supernatural
or “Mannequin 3: The Reckoning” and its Narrative Heritage
 
“But, with wonderful skill, he carved a figure, brilliantly, out of snow-white ivory, no mortal woman, and fell in love with his own creation. The features are those of a real girl, who, you might think, lived, and wished to move, if modesty did not forbid it. Indeed, art hides his art.” 
 
– Book X, Ovid, Metamorphoses

“You can imagine going to a work place where there are many mannequins: if a mannequin started to move, you might be shocked. This is a kind of horror.” – Masahiro Mori, “The Uncanny Valley,” 1970


There is something enchanting about the world of make-believe. Supernatural recognizes this attraction and incorporates it as part of its thematic structure. One cannot have a science-fiction/fantasy storyline without a dash and nod to the fantastic. However, the show also demonstrates, again and again, the problems of imagination, the dangers of fantasy, and the consequences of denying the real. Each season of Supernatural contains an episode that directly addresses the problem of Pygmalion, or more succinctly, the problem of the fantasy come to life. 

Pygmalion is the name of the sculptor who fell in love with his creation, the beautiful stature popularly known as Galatea. It is always the danger of the artist – to fall in love with the art. It is an inherently unrequited feeling, which leads me to a disclaimer before I start my analysis. 

I am working now on an article that argues against Supernatural’s breaking of the fourth wall. It is not a kind portrayal of the show, so I was in a dark place as I was researching the topic. However, when the new episode “Mannequin 3: The Reckoning” aired, I found myself drawn again to the show’s intricate storytelling rather than its puerile self-reference. Supernatural tells a complex story, layered with themes that double, triple, and quadruple back on itself. It’s a puzzle and it’s good, even delicious. I’m not sure if it is intentional or accidental – I’d bet accidental, or perhaps organic, but this recent episode demonstrated, for me at least, how mature its narrative arcs are. 

For example, the problem of Pygmalion as I like to call it, is a running theme throughout the series. While this theme may seem disconnected from the overall story of Supernatural, I would argue that these episodes, which appear as stand-alone storylines, are really the show’s way of exposing important character arcs that supersede its plotline. From the first season to the sixth, the show includes these episodes at various points throughout the plot and takes these opportunities to meditate on what it means to operate in fictional landscape by using a meta-fictional landscape. In other words, the show’s imaginary world has its own imaginary worlds that it adores and fears, much like Pygmalion and his ivory skinned statue.

In season 1, “Faith” warned against belief without the recognition of sacrifice.  Season 2’s “Playthings” used dolls as a metaphor to show the fragile and psychotic co-dependency of one sister on another, while at the same time introducing the heartbreak of a child losing the make-believe. Season 3 offered up “Bedtime Stories” and its terror of losing a child, even when the child was already lost, and used fairy tales to filter this lesson. During Season 4, “Wishful Thinking” explicitly showed the tragedy of loving the unreal, while Season 5’s “Fallen Idols” criticized that tragedy, tying it to a pitiful depiction of the unrequited nature of fandom and the later episode “I Believe the Children are Our Future” revisits the trauma of breaking the child’s make-believe world. And now, Season 6 uses “Mannequin 3: The Reckoning” to return to the theme of Pygmalion, but in a terribly personal way. 

Gods/Sisters/Lovers/Daughters/Icons/Sons/Brothers


In “Faith,” the episodes’ core lesson involved the contradictory nature of belief. In a world where the unseen is evident, this episode used a fable of healing to show how the unseen is a dark background of sacrifice. Belief always centers on a suspension of disbelief, the core of storytelling. At this point in the show, God was unseen, unproven. He was a figure on the edge of the narrative; a ghost in the machine, so to speak. For me, this episode is the first story to attempt to see the danger of wishing, of imagining with desire without recognizing how that desire blinds us to the aftermath. Dean sees this underbelly; his insight juxtaposes sharply with Sam’s desire to rescue his brother. 

Desire and outcome dance across a field, mirroring each other but always separated by the figure of the reaper. The make-believe is the faith of death deterred, when in point of fact, it is simply death deferred. The fantasy collapses with the knowledge of sacrifice and unfortunately, Layla Rourke and her mother suffer the consequence of the uncovering of the make-believe. The Pygmalion moment happens quietly, in the scene when Layla says goodbye to Dean. 

Dean: It must be tough. To believe in something so much and have it disappoint you like that.
Layla: You want to hear something weird? I’m okay, really. I guess if you’re going to have faith, you can’t just have it when the miracles happen. You have to have it when they don’t.
Dean: What now?
Layla: God works in mysterious ways. 

Dean’s position here is clear. He’s expects to be disappointed. He sees only the ivory statue with its lifeless limbs. Layla, through necessity or kindness, sees the statue move.  I would argue that this episode clearly places faith in the realm of the make-believe, a sentiment reinforced for two seasons, until angels and God make their entrance. But it is not until Season 2 that the show will establish and consolidate its fear and fascination with the plasticity of fantasy. 


In “Playthings,” the story of the Thompson sisters demonstrates what will become the most poignant subtext involved in the problem of Pygmalion: the loss of childhood belief. The dolls, in this story, play a key role. They are representations of a lost past. Their plastic, shiny faces with their dull, lifeless eyes invoke the unreal in a specific and human and childlike way. They are memories of a forgotten history as well as a tangible link to childhood, to the reality of a sister who died tragically. It is appropriate that the doll-like ghost, Maggie, would haunt the edges of her sister Rose’s life, threatening to unravel not only Rose’s life but the life of her granddaughter, her future. Dolls watch but can never speak, only from the imagination of young girls who have yet to discover the real. 

Sam and Dean’s story presents a looking glass to the Thompson storyline, with John’s instruction to Dean about taking care of or killing Sam haunting the narrative, much like Maggie. In that scene where Sam begs Dean to kill him, if he should happen to fall into darkness, articulates the fear of being left behind which is the lightning rod moment of the episode. Even Sam’s drunken pawing of Dean invokes a child’s desperate clinging to reality, to the human. John’s words, Dean’s promise, and Sam’s fate are metaphorical dolls; they are lifeless, deadened shapeless things and they are all tied to that moment when the Winchester childhood lost its innocence, when the brothers lost their make-believe.

How does the show resolve this problem of Pygmalion? At the end of the episode, the sisters are reunited in death. One wonders if this is the vision of the Winchesters that the show foresees.


In the shortened season 3 the show aired “Bedtime Stories.” While the episode is probably more noted for Sam’s murder of the crossroads demon, the narrative return to the problem of fantasy is the centerpiece of the episode. This time the theme emerges between a father and daughter. The daughter, who suffered at the hands of her stepmother, has existed in a liminal space for many years, in a coma that has now manifested itself in the real world with fairytales coming to life. The frozen imagination of the young girl provides a space for the show to examine not only the sinister nature of beloved children’s stories, but also it becomes a device to again showcase how imagination and make-believe are tied to loss and desire. The father’s desire for his daughter to live is not so much selfish as it is desperate. That desperation is seen in Sam, who yet again as he did in “Faith,” tries to deter death. Dean sees the futility, even calls Sam out with a line about learning to let go, just as the father learned to let go of the daughter. 

“Bedtime Stories,” though, has an embedded theme that calls back to “Playthings” and forecasts the stories that will follow it. The theme revolves around the danger of desire that appears innocent. Appears. Once desire enters the stage, the figure of loss is not far behind. To want something is to recognize its absence. Loss and absence are foundational experiences for the Winchester brothers and it comes into full relief in the episodes that use the world of make-believe as a vehicle of meaning. Perhaps it is a safe space to experience the grotesque dimension of desire. 

Fairytales, dolls, and religion/myths are all predicated on the imaginary. They rely on the unseen and the inanimate, but once seen and animated, these items and their stories can reveal a sense of abjection in the human experience. In her theory about the abject, Julia Kristeva argues, “There is nothing like the abjection of the self to show that all abjection is in fact recognition of the want on which any being, meaning, language, or desire is founded” (Powers of Horror, 5). Kristeva sees this sense of the “uncanny” as a way for humans to identify those unspoken desires that disgust us while at the same time enchant us. It’s a lesson that “Bedtime Stories” and later, “Wishful Thinking” will showcase: What happens when what you want in your make-believe world breaks the membrane between fiction and reality and appears in the flesh? For Supernatural, this breach always brings death. 



If any episode directly addresses the Pygmalion problem, it is “Wishful Thinking.” The season four episode stands alone from the overall story arc of season four and Sam’s spiral into the demonic, or so it seems. What this episode makes is a relevant digression into the make-believe and showcases how the decay Sam and Dean’s relationship is directly connected to the breakdown of the imaginary. The story does this by emphasizing the point where fantasy and reality intersect in desire and the consequence of this intersection. If we cross-breed the make-believe with the physical world, then we get sad teddy bears and empty hearted lovers, but for the Winchesters we see not the far-away land of fairytales, but the imminent memory of hell.

This episode is the first time Dean admits to his memories of hell, even if it is not a full disclosure. It’s appropriate that “Wishful Thinking” would be the moment of confession. Hell, while real for Dean, is still a make-believe world for Sam. Sam, like the nerdy Wes, wants (perhaps needs) the image of normal affection. The emptiness of Holly’s love for Wes is equivalent to the emptiness of Dean’s connection to his brother. I would argue that this episode marks the moment when Sam, unconsciously, begins his downward fall into the demonic. The disconnection, fed by Dean’s refusal to share his experience of Hell, signals to Sam the absence of the brotherhood, or at least the absence of what the brotherhood once meant. 

In his work, Jean Baudrillard sees the “hyperreal” as the moment when representation becomes the more than its referent (model supersedes the real):  when the doll becomes superhuman, when the idol becomes the most intimate lover, or when the companion becomes the closest brother.  In “Wishful Thinking,” this danger is examined and resolved, as it often always is on Supernatural. It is a show that steps to the edge but very rarely steps over it. 

The core lesson becomes: Wishful thinking is only wistful, never real.
 


In Season 5 two episodes return to the Pygmalion issue, perhaps more if I wanted to argue that. My reading is that this theme becomes more prevalent because the show itself is dealing with a narrative disconnect between its fictional reality and the reality of the viewing public. By puncturing the fourth wall, Supernatural introduced a whole host of problems and issues that directly link to the unrequited love for one’s art. But that’s a digression…..For the purpose of this article, I will simply highlight one episode, “Fallen Idols.” 

In “Fallen Idols,” the pagan god inhabits the figures of contemporary iconography. Paris Hilton, “Lil’ Bastard,” and “Abe Lincoln” are simply faces to fill, statues to animate in the name of desire. The episode is a frighteningly sarcastic and close to demeaning depiction of a perceived false idolatry.  The episode uses wax figures in place of dolls or teddy bears, but the lesson is the same. The theme returns us to the Winchesters’s problematic brotherhood and, in a way, underscores the disappointment so inherent in loving the false idol, in expecting the one you hold on the pedestal to maintain its pinnacle. Dean’s fallen idol is (Sam?). Sam’s fallen idol is (Dean?).  The problem with Pygmalion is not that the statue is beautiful and perfect; the problem with Pygmalion is that once the statue comes  to life, it is simply human. 

Idols fall in the presence of the human. 


And now we come to season six’s “Mannequin 3: The Reckoning.” This episode deliberately uses the doll metaphor to accomplish a few narrative points. First, the parallel between Rose and Isabel Brown and Rose and Maggie Thompson from “Playthings” is heightened by the presence of the doll. Whereas the dolls of “Playthings” were childhood mementos, the dolls of “Mannequin 3” are more menacing because they are adult dolls, mannequins. I would say this difference parallels the difference between where Sam and Dean were in Season Two and where they are now, in Season Six. In Season Two, the brothers were still dealing with the remnants of their childhood trauma and how to move past them; now they are dealing with what it means to be adults, both responsible and accountable. 

Both Maggie Thompson and Rose Brown are vengeful spirits who cause the death of their sibling. With Maggie it is the specter of loneliness and the fear of being left behind that spurs her anger (the disappearance of the dolls); for Rose it is the specter of loneliness and the anger at being teased with companionship (in the form of a doll/mannequin) that spurs her vengeance. And yet, it is the sisters who carry the brunt of their revenge. And the saddest line of “Mannequin 3” is one I feel is echoed in many exchanges between Sam and Dean, “I didn’t mean for this to happen.” 

Finally, and this is not going to be popular, I think the almost-human nature of the mannequin reveals the danger of the almost-human relationship that one might have with it. There is an interesting British documentary called “Guys and Dolls,” which documents four men’s “relationships” with RealDolls. RealDolls, for those who don’t know, are very expensive mannequins that are built and designed to be as human-like as possible. These men interact with the women, dress them, go out with them, and generally live their lives with these dolls as if the dolls were real. But the dolls aren’t real, they are just projections of the men’s desires. The relationships are one-sided and subject to the men’s ideals, which dolls can achieve and humans cannot. I see Dean in this analysis….and that’s all I will say. 

While “Mannequin 3: The Reckoning” had its issues, I found it as satisfactory because of its link to other stories that the show has told. The episode has a heritage and I find it to be a fairly complex and interesting one. And I will leave my analysis with that last observation….and to say, for anyone interested, the article that I am writing (which I escaped from to write this one) is tentatively titled, “Breaking the Fourth Wall to Build a Fifth: Reciprocal Violence between Supernatural and its Fans.” 

Comments  

Zakko
# Zakko 2011-02-23 23:28
Superbly written and piercing insight into the show and many of its metaphors. You allude to Dean and his fixation on the fantastic and his tendency to project that on human dolls. I think a strong argument exists that he did this repeatedly to Sam. Fascinating idea.

I am very curious about your ideas regarding meta and a reciprocal violence between the show and its viewers. With this coming meta episode being the show lampooning itself, actors and crew, is that a self-targeted violence?

I have also read that the massive fan-fiction library that has sprung up around this show, and in particular wincest, is an effort by the fans to give a happily ever after to Sam and Dean because they have no faith in the writers to provide it. What are your thoughts on that idea?

Again, a brilliant analysis, and thank you for sharing.
Linda-bookdal
# Linda-bookdal 2011-02-24 00:01
Hi Zakko,

Actually, it's interesting that you ask that about meta. The article that I'm working on is near 30 pages now (and so not finished. I've had to break it into sections because I think that Supernatural's use of meta opens up so many cans of worms when it comes to the interaction between text/writer/rea der.

To give you a better idea of the approach I'm taking, the sections I'm working on are tentatively titled, (1) "I See You on the Side, My Dirty Little Secret", (2) Supernatural and its Gordian Knots, (3) The Inside Text: The Rape/Possession Metaphor and Penetrating the Fourth Wall, (4) The Outside Text: Supernatural's Marginalia and its Discontents, and (5) The Outside of Outside Text: Stalker, Mother, Plaything - The Patron-Monsters of Supernatural.

I find myself following the ripple effect of the meta in Supernatural to two conclusions: (a) that the show engages in a rather exclusive relationship with its dedicated viewers, which oscillates between sentimental (Demian and Barnes) to irritated (Becky) to downright didactic (Chuck's Swan Song monologue) and (b) the show has caused, to my mind, a series of fourth wall demolitions that have moved the fans into a strange place in the narrative, almost capturing its audience behind another wall. It's at that point, I think, that the core story has been de-centered and de-stabilized. I consider it almost like a big bang that leads to a bigger implosion.

As for fanfiction and fan produced texts, I think it's like medieval annotations. For many, the marginalia authorizes the original text - there was a great book I read by John Dagenais about The Ethics of Reading in the Middle Ages and he uses Ovid's Metamorphoses to make the argument that one way to "sanctify" or "make acceptable" a text is to provide authorized readings of it. For Ovid that was the Christian Church. For Supernatural, that begins with the 45,000 stories archived on fanfiction.net, which doesn't even cover the entirety of the online collection of fanfiction. While the Church sanctioned texts in the Middle Ages, the digital commons sanctions texts in contemporary culture. Traffic outweighs, to a certain degree, dogmatic practice.

I'm reserving my thoughts on the upcoming episode, but I will say, from what I've read, it will demonstrate a few observations I've been making about the outside of outside text. But again, I'm going to wait and see.

Wow, that was a long-winded response...Sorr y :)

Thanks for the comments though!
Linda
Zakko
# Zakko 2011-02-24 00:14
Love this.

My first thought in reading your ideas on the role of meta in the series is that Supernatural acutely benefits/suffer s from the blessing/curse of an obsessively dedicated and hyper-vocal fan base. I agree there is some historical precedent, but I am fascinated by the role of social media with this kind of fan base and this kind of show. As Twitter, Facebook and Tumblr are in their infancies, this is an unseen feedback loop in mass media, which traditionally had minimal feedback. That immediacy could easily foster that type of slavish devotion and this idea of reciprocal violence.

Now that you mention the idea of a "fifth wall," the implications are far reaching. Supernatural has embraced meta, for better or worse, arguably more successfully than any other show, but it also exists in a brand new nexus of never before seen media. Could this become a seminal model in a previously push medium that is suddenly a confluence of media?

Wow, if I go into my thoughts on fanfic, this reply will spiral further out of control.

Zach
Linda-bookdal
# Linda-bookdal 2011-02-24 06:46
Zach,

You see that is where I'm heading! Great minds! In fact, one of my lines is "This show and the spectacle of its fandom perform, and to a certain degree predict, the ever increasing contention over textual authority across the new media landscape, but Supernatural portrays this tension in a unique manner. Breaking the fourth wall signifies, in the context of Supernatural, a cathartic moment of emotional release while at the same time, the event folds the interpretation back into the narrative in an attempt to retain ownership of the text. Writer/fan, fan/writer….w here does one end and the other begin?"

I think that SPN has this unique perspective on a coming textual apocalypse. The show (and its dedicated viewers who as JP says, "keeps" it "alive) is a case study in the democratization of criticism and the measurement of viewership. In other words, SPN exposes the myth of ratings as they appear in contemporary television viewership. The fan produced texts (criticism, fiction, videos) stand testament to this incredible archive that makes the show so "present" but in a totally unauthorized way. What I mean is that SPN did not foresee this for itself; it was such an organic explosion. But I also think that the disadvantage is that, at the same time that it becomes exceedingly popular it also excludes itself from casual viewership. And the show, with its fourth wall penetration, participates in that enclosure.

Okay...it's 6:46am. I hope that response made sense.

Linda
Melanie
# Melanie 2011-02-23 23:46
Very interesting analysis.
I find the inclusion of the episode 'Faith' a bit odd -- in a 'one of these things is not like the others' sense.
The season one episode that to me is more the precursor to the Pygmalion theme is 'Hell House' where the belief in the imaginary Tulpa literally did bring it to life.
Linda-bookdal
# Linda-bookdal 2011-02-24 00:05
You are right, Melanie. And I went back and forth between Faith and Hell House. I chose Faith because I always go back to it as one of my favorite 1st season episodes. But you're right, Hell House might have been a better fit for the analysis arc.
Zakko
# Zakko 2011-02-24 00:20
Because butting into other people's conversations is my wont:

Given the premise of fantasy and how it plays out in reality, and particularly Supernatural's tendency to explore the dark consequences of idealistic fantasy in a real world, I think "Faith" is the better choice. The ideal (faith/heaven/G od) playing out in the real (fear/death/sac rifice) is the core of the episode, and that duality is often represented in religious texts.

/butts out
Melanie
# Melanie 2011-02-24 01:12
Linda - what I love about your posts - they make me keep contemplating! :)
I was also thinking that the overall tone of "Hell House' and treatment of the theme in the episode is more similar to the other episodes than that of 'Faith'.
And I agree with you Zakko, that Faith deals with fear/death/sacr ifice much better than Hell House, but I don't think that the intent of 'Faith' is the portrayal of the religious aspects as 'idealistic fantasy'. Especially when now in retrospect we know that in the Supernatural universe at least, God and his angels are not a fantasy at all.

P.S. Faith is also one of my favorite S1 episodes.
magichappening
# magichappening 2011-02-24 10:00
And here I thought Pygmalion was all about Eliza Doolittle and ‘Enry ‘Iggins. You definitely made me think about those episodes and while I am not sure I agree with all the conclusions you draw, a couple of points struck me. So thank you!

First, ‘the problems of imagination, the dangers of fantasy, and the consequences of denying the real’ as demonstrated in the Supernatural episodes you selected. Faith is one of my favourite episodes of the series, but I like other commenters am not sure about the inclusion of that episode in your argument. Equating faith and make believe to me is a tricky line to walk e.g. your point ‘Fairytales, dolls, and religion/myths are all predicated on the imaginary’.

However I like your points, ‘(Dean) sees only the ivory statue with its lifeless limbs. Layla, through necessity or kindness, sees the statue move’ and ‘the problem with Pygmalion is not that the statue is beautiful and perfect; the problem with Pygmalion is that once the statue comes to life, it is simply human’. Perhaps this is what growing up is all about. Not expecting perfection, but still being able to see the statue move. This to me is what Sam and Dean have been going through with respect to each other and you draw an interesting comparison between the ‘dolls’ of Season 2 and 6.

I think linking make-believe to inevitable harm and loss, though, is perhaps only looking at the glass half-empty. The episode Wishful Thinking seems to best fit your argument, but even there, to me, when it comes to the brothers’ story, it is the reality of Hell that brings pain to Sam rather than keeping the make-believe that Dean was attempting to. And at the end of ‘I Believe the Children Are Our Future’ Sam and Dean have the following exchange:

Dean: ‘You know we destroyed that kid’s life by telling him the truth’.
Sam: ‘We didn’t have a choice, Dean’.
Dean: ‘Yeah…You know I am starting to get why parents lie to their kids. You know, you want them to believe that the worst thing out there is mixing Pop Rocks and Coke. Protect them from the real evil. You want them going to bed feeling safe. If that means lying to them, so be it. The more I think about it, the more I wish Dad had lied to us.’
Sam: ‘Yeah, me too.’

Now they were obviously talking about childhood, but I do not believe (!) that all make believe and fantasy will inherently lead to loss for adults, either. Some is necessary to survive. It serves a purpose. I guess it depends on make-believe’ s relative importance to reality (perhaps ensuring it does not become ‘hyperreal’ ) and the consequences it has. On that note, have you seen the movie ‘Lars and The Real Girl’? Someone recently recommended it on another thread and I second that recommendation http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VBGOMUSc3Mw Definitely worth a watch.

Finally, post-a relationship with Lisa, I am not sure how fair it is to fit Dean into the Real Doll box only. Although granted, he has had and still does have issues with relationships in general and women in particular. He has come a long way. And while Dean is a realist, his having to give up the enchantment of childhood, the illusion/make-b elieve of safety and the black and white of good vs. evil for reality unvarnished have been devastating to him. But Dean still believes in Sam – and now sees the statue move, flaws and all, but still sees him subjectively and with bias and with love. Like the song says, ‘It’s clouds’/loveâ €™s/life’s illusions I recall’. Or as TS Eliot said ‘Humankind cannot bear very much reality’.
Brynhild
# Brynhild 2011-02-24 13:00
Quote:
First, ‘the problems of imagination, the dangers of fantasy, and the consequences of denying the real’ as demonstrated in the Supernatural episodes you selected. Faith is one of my favourite episodes of the series, but I like other commenters am not sure about the inclusion of that episode in your argument. Equating faith and make believe to me is a tricky line to walk e.g. your point ‘Fairytales, dolls, and religion/myths are all predicated on the imaginary’.
It's curious that you're saying that, because me too, as reading, was thinking something similar. And the article, while very insightful, struck me with its total rejection of "myth/fairytale /religion", equating them to "irreality". Which it's a very curious statement, given the "fantastic" nature of the SN-verse.

This statement recalled to my mind, for contrast, Tolkien's essay "On fairy-stories", that starts from the same premises (fairy-tales and fantastic stories in general perform and must perform three essential functions to the reader: Recovery, Consolation and Escape), but goes exactly to the opposite conclusions, claiming strongly the necessity of this kind of functions, for the man seems to him ineherently incapable to content himself with the "reality". Refusing that means to give way to insanity, depression, sloth, anger.

In Tolkien's view, the Man is essentially a "myths' creator" (or sub-creator, but this is a more complex argument), the "myth" being just the greek word for "story, tale", and myths, legends, fairytales and even religions, far from being "unreal", strongly reflect Man's nature and essence and are powerful tools to understand and interpret reality, while providing means to overcome and go beyond mere reality, or, more precisely, "actuality" ("the way the world is now").

This is particularly true about the Great Problem that is hinted in the article, i.e. Death and Loss. In fact, Tolkien sees how myths and fairytales and "fantasy" in general provides what he calls "the Great Escape" from Death, and in general from Loss. But far from viewing this as a source for "not seeing reality", he believe that it can be a source for "defying reality", not bowing to a destiny already written. In the end, a source of "hope beyond hope" that can change things (at least some of them).

Tolkien being a fervent Christian (Catholic) can undoubtedly explain this kind of view, since for him the Great Escape from Death is "real", so what fantastic tales provide is a "fleeting glimpse of Joy; Joy beyond the walls of the world". He refuses the scorn and the pity with which "escapism" is often looked at, because for him the Man is a prisoner who tries to break the walls that encircle him, so the "escape" is not something pityful, but highly honourable. It is not a way to not see "the world as it is", "it does not deny the existence of... failure or sorrow... it denies (in the face of much evidence, if you will) universal final defeat and in so far is evangelium "(i.e. "good news").

It seems to me that this kind of approach is also present in SPN all along with the pessimistic view of a world "closed" and without hope, where "faith" (i.e. religious faith) seems too often be a make-believe, an illusion. In the episode in question, Layla's faith is presented as a counterpart to Dean's "hopeless" view, but it doesn't seem to me that it is done to present her as "delusional": in fact, Dean looks at her with admiration and envy, not with pity. He can see how this kind of faith/hope can be a powerful source of energy for Layla, a drive to fight her battle against the illness, while he was ready to go without a fight at the start of the episode.

This kind of "hope beyond hope" is what took Dean to the Stull Cemetery, knowing too well that very probably he was going to see his brother die, or succumb to Lucifer, and very probably that he was going to die, too. But he went anyway, sure to being there with his brother until the bitter end, but, IMO, also in the hope of giving his brother the strenght to fight Lucifer's possession.

Paradoxically, in a show claiming that "God's left the building", this hope is rewarded by a (casual? providential?)e vent (the glimpse of the toy soldier that causes the flooding of memories in Lucifer!Sam) that changes a story that seemed already written and doomed. A real "eucatastrophe" , like Tolkien calls it in his essay.

So I don't konw until what point in SPN faith can be equated to make-believe. Surely it is not a "religious faith", in which it doesn't seem proceed from any characters' creedence in a superior being or force. Still, it is very strongly present, mainly between the characters themselves, and beyond their flaws and failures. Maybe Dean didn't want to see his brother for what he was, and his faith was shaken when the statue came to life revealing itself as only human. But he was able to overcome that "childish" faith to build a more mature one (just as Layla did), that "does not deny the existence of... failure or sorrow..." but can see beyond them.
Melanie
# Melanie 2011-02-24 23:28
Beautifully said. Thank you for expressing this. The power of hope, to me, is perhaps THE key theme that runs through Supernatural.
Scarlotti
# Scarlotti 2011-02-24 15:05
A fascinating article, Lisa. Thanks for sharing it.

I don't see SPN as being opposed to fantasy per se. It takes the fantastical (monsters) as a given.

Nor do I see it as being necessarily opposed to fantasy as wish fulfillment. Dean's selling his soul to save Sam might have had some bad consequences, but the end result (Sam lived to stop the Apocalypse) was a positive one.

For me, the underlying force behind both the individual episodes and the myth-arc as a whole is one of ethics. Not for nothing did Castiel say that one day their story will be known as The Winchester Gospels.

Basically, the people aren't punished for delving into the supernatural in order to fulfill their wishes, so much as they are punished for doing so at the expense/well being of others. Thus reformed vampire Lenore (representing the desire for immortality) is spared. Evan Hudson (Crossroad Blues) is also saved from the Hellhounds (and released from his bargain with the Crossroads Demon) because his foray into the supernatural hurn no one other than himself (and was, arguably, as much altruistic as selfish).

Unfortunately, there are consequences for upsetting the natural order of things which the Winchesters(and we viewers) are only beginning to learn (Appointment in Samarra).
Jasminka
# Jasminka 2011-02-24 18:26
Hi Linda, I didn't have time to read this, yet, so much work these days, it's just crazy, just wanted to let you know that I look forward to reading this in a quite moment over the weekend, as I'm sure, this article has to be eaten slowly and digested properly :-x .
Love,Jas