Open Couch â€“ Appointment in Samarra
How do you define human dignity?
How do you define human dignity?
An â€“ quite literally â€“ ensouled episode. Looks like the resident therapist here is going to have some serious work with Sam (and Dean wonâ€™t be far behind, I reckon)â€¦ Thank God thereâ€™s a hiatus and we can take our time to work out some coping strategies.
Lean back, kind readers, get yourself some coffee, hot chocolate or good Scotch and snuggle into the cushions, as this one will be, Iâ€™m afraid, a long one.
A few years back there was a brilliant book by a wonderful writer named John Oâ€™Hara, â€˜Appointment in Samarraâ€™ â€“ itâ€™s the story of a young high society man set during the time of the prohibition in a small Pennsylvanian town. Being at odds with the bourgeois, complacent and suffocating small town society, he loses his temper and insults a member of the gentry, thereby causing the beginning of his own downfall. He spirals inevitably to his own self-destruction and loses practically everything.
I can only assume the writers meant to build a connection to this outstanding novel (and I am thinking self-destructive Sam here) which holds a reference to W. Somerset Maugham, who retold the ancient story from the Babylonian Talmud (though its origins are unknown): â€˜The Appointment in Samarraâ€™
Death speaks: â€œThere was a merchant in Bagdad who sent his servant to market to buy provisions and in a little while the servant came back, white and trembling, and said, â€˜Master, just now when I was in the marketplace I was jostled by a woman in the crowd and when I turned I saw it was Death that jostled me. She looked at me and made a threatening gesture! Now, lend me your horse, and I will ride away from this city and avoid my fate. I will go to Samarra and there Death will not find me.â€™
The merchant lent him his horse, and the servant mounted it, and he dug his spurs in its flanks and as fast as the horse could gallop he went. Then the merchant went down to the marketplace and he saw me standing in the crowd and he came to me and said, â€˜Why did you make a threating gesture to my servant when you saw him this morning?â€™ â€“ â€˜ That was not a threatening gesture, I said, it was only a start of surprise. I was astonished to see him in Bagdad, for I had an appointment with him tonight in Samarraâ€™.â€
Literally scholars see in the term having-an-appointment-in-Samarra a metaphor for Death and that you canâ€™t escape whatâ€™s waiting for you. Here you go.
And once again I am pleasantly amazed by the erudition of the writers of this show. Well done, indeed!
They are giving us, again, another deeply disturbing battle in this episode - both brothers are fighting for the same thing: survival. More on a spiritual level than a physical one. Dean canâ€™t bear that Sam is imprisoned in hell and being tortured till kingdom come. Heâ€™s been there. He knows how terrible it can be. Heâ€™s following his inner compass that has always been in alignment with the safety of his younger sibling. Thatâ€™s his lifeâ€™s calling. It has always been. It might have found variations over the years, but thatâ€™s what Dean still feels compelled to do.
He wouldnâ€™t be able to sleep from tormenting guilt if he didnâ€™t achieve this goal. He probably wouldnâ€™t be able to live with that, and thereby heâ€™s also trying to protect himself.
Sam, on the other hand, has listened closely when angel and demon agreed on the matter of his soul. He doesnâ€™t want it back. It scares the living daylights out of him to imagine how he might end up, a pathetic mess, like a genetic meltdown of soul and living body, when his infernal ordeal surfaces. Heâ€™s terrified and I canâ€™t blame him. Who wouldnâ€™t be?
Both brothers are ready to do literally everything to survive â€“ Dean goes flatline, strikes a deal with Death (not heeding his previous bad experiences when it came to making deals with the supernatural), imprisons Sam, forces his soul back into his body (it doesnâ€™t matter that Death does it â€“ Dean is the one who made it possible by searching for the horseman and agreeing to his terms, thereby doing himself (in his desperation about Sam) and Death (as it is about souls, we will learn) a favour. A deeply disturbing thought altogether â€“ there is, no doubt, method in this madness).
Sam looks for a deal with another paranormal enemy, Balthazar, heâ€™s trying to deceive everyone, eventually is willing to take Bobbyâ€™s life to scar himself in an irreparable manner.
â€˜Desperate timesâ€™ is the reason both explain their actions to their opponents. Oh, yes, they come from the same gene pool. Though hardly anyone could be closer, both couldnâ€™t be further apart.
Itâ€™s heartbreaking, really.
â€˜If I donâ€™t make it back, nothing I say is gonna mean a damn thing to him.â€™
So, Dean is going to have that appointment as he stops by a Chinese butcher to find a fairly cheap (and, well, germ inhabited) apartment. He meets a bit too-hands-on doctor who apparently has stitched up his father countless times â€˜back in the days when I still had a licenseâ€™. Okayâ€¦ Did anyone check whether this Chinatown had an Elm Street?
Well, his treatment room has seen better days, and he occupies a Goth-ish assistant named Eva. But Dean will go through with this, as Dean has a plan for which he is willing to pay good money â€“ find Death.
The problem is: to meet Death you need to die.
It seems Dean has lost faith in the version of his brother that has been around. The last-words-letter in case anything goes wrong in the flatlining process is addressed to his almost-son Ben, not to his brother.
Because whatâ€™s walking around on this planet is an empty vessel. Supposedly. The essence of Sam that used to live in that handsome body is down in the pit. And there is no sense in Dean sending any last words to an empty shell. Perhaps he even assumes he might see Sam downstairs should things go wrong. Though I would personally think that Dean would finally end up in Heaven (since he has been a basically good man, despite the whole demon-killing, lying, fraud and womanizing), he himself in all likelihood doesnâ€™t hold himself in that high an esteem.
Itâ€™s a painful sentence he utters here. Heâ€™s a defeated man, more or less, who still has a lot of spunk, in short: he dies for his brother, again, to find a way, any way, to save him. And he is a beautiful corpse, indeed. An even more handsome ghost evoking Tessa (sorry, folks I need a dash of shallowness here, this is going to be a tough ride). But she doesnâ€™t want to help him call her boss, the Horseman himself. No need, as Death is here. He always is here. He walks beside us, doesnâ€™t he? Whenever he reaches out his hand, someone has to go. I know how that feels. I am quite grateful I donâ€™t have to be on the other side, doing the taking.
I am amazed, again, at the charisma of Julian Richings. With his extraordinary looks and husky voice he is predestined to play characters like this, a holy man or the devil. It might not be the nicest typecast niche, but I canâ€™t help but notice that when he appears on the screen itâ€™s full. You donâ€™t miss another person there. He dominates his screen time. And that is a rare thing. Plus: he does his job wonderfully.
And cruellyâ€¦ â€˜As a rule I donâ€™t bring people back. I might make an exception. Once. Not twice.â€™ So, Dean, as honourable as it is that you havenâ€™t forgot about your brother Adam down there in Luciferâ€™s cage â€“ you donâ€™t have a chance to help him, too.
And Dean chooses. In a heartbeat â€“ itâ€™s Sam, of course.
Now, I could imagine some fans out there being upset about how Dean could make that choice and that quickly, without even pondering the question. I have to admit, I understand fully why he chose Sam â€“ first, he only has a few minutes, not enough time to bargain with Death, before Dr. Krueger, ahem, sorry, Dr. Roberts brings him back; second, heâ€™s known Sam all his life, heâ€™s the one who means the most to him in all the world, the man heâ€™s died for more than once, the one he misses the most, third, there might be a bit of hope in him that he might find another way to help Adam as well. Later.
For now his top priority is Sam. Itâ€™s become unbearable to him to watch his Robo-brother and not being able to do anything about it. Dean is only pursuing his lifeâ€™s task: protect the brother heâ€™s always protected.
â€˜The soul can be bludgeoned and tortured but not broken, not even by meâ€™
That moved me. The soul is a strong element. No kidding. How else could it survive millennia in Hell (or in Heaven) being wounded again and again?
How else would people survive the most unspeakable horrors if it wasnâ€™t for their strong souls? A soul canâ€™t be enslaved, though it can be mutilated. And whatever wound it takes it remembers it for eternity.
That wall Death proposes to put up will only hold the pain back for so long. Then all the terror behind it will break way. Itâ€™s what I see on an everyday basis. Suppressed images, memories, gashes re-surface. When I think what Sam is going to have to deal with some day, my skin feels like sizzling offâ€¦ Because, mostly, whatever is hidden in the subconscious, might come up one day. Thereâ€™s no guarantee of shutting it off. A classic Freudian instrument, indeed.
Death will take over the work of the human psyche â€“ hiding too horrific events behind a barrier, deep inside the soul. But that doesnâ€™t mean that they are gone. One could imagine them just being asleep. But if someone bangs too loud at that door (a certain smell, a sound, a move can do the trick) some of the hidden comes out and often causes confusion, tremendous pain and â€“ in general â€“ havoc inside the soul.
I presume this is what will happen with Sam in the course of the following episodes. There will be memories coming up, awoken by certain moments that carry a connection to his ordeal downstairs. Oh, God, Sammyâ€¦
â€˜Okay, thatâ€™s the choice: Sam with no soul or Sam with a soul behind a dry wall that if or when it collapses heâ€™s done? (â€¦) Do it.â€™
The desperation in Deanâ€™s own soul is so very much palpable here as he doesnâ€™t hesitate for a moment before making that choice. He doesnâ€™t pause to think about how Sam might feel when he finds out. He makes that decision for Sam, because Dean canâ€™t live with this version of his brother. He does it because he needs to save him. Itâ€™s a philosophical question whether it might be more of a salvation for Sam to leave it be. But weâ€™re not in the position to argue philosophy or theology.
Itâ€™s happening. Dean is making a deal â€“ and Death has an interesting task for him. With that wager in mind, Dean is back. For a man whoâ€™s been flatline for about seven minutes a bit too well, ahem. But this is Supernatural, and not everything needs to be medically correct, so letâ€™s not be nitpicky.
â€˜Itâ€™s my life. Itâ€™s my soul.â€™
Dean has a hard time selling it to Sam and Bobby. Interesting how RoboSam fights just as vehemently for his independence than the ensouled Sam used to. He knows that his own brother is going to violate his soul back into his body, and heâ€™s not thrilled. On the contrary. He will try to save himself, like: getting Deathâ€™s ring before Dean can put it on to fulfill his part of the deal.
Alas, the ring is already gone and in Deanâ€™s pocket. And Dean is, finally again after quite some time, very confident with what heâ€™s going to do to save Sam â€“ because this is familiar territory. This is the part heâ€™s excelled at since his childhood days: being his brotherâ€™s keeper. He is convinced that he will do it right to protect his little brother. He wonâ€™t let it go wrong. To my mind, he truly believes it.
In various ways, this is a mirror to the role of Sam in previous seasons. Dean believes he is doing the right thing â€“ doing what he is doing to get Samâ€™s soul back, while being aware what it could mean. Heâ€™s risking a lot here and does so over Samâ€™s head.
There was a time when Sam stepped onto a slippery path of this own, consorting with Ruby, for instance, for the same reasons: to help stop the end of the world because he was convinced that Dean was not strong enough to do it. So Sam, essentially, was protecting his brother (and the planet for that matter). In the same light Sam decided to take on Lucifer and, even though discussing it with his family this time, went through with it despite the protests voiced.
Sam knew the risks and the danger, but still did it. Dean is doing the same here. Heâ€™s forcing a decision onto his brother because he is firm in the presumption to be doing what needs to be done. Itâ€™s a very Winchester thing. Apparently it runs in the family.
In many families this kind of behaviour would be reason enough to tear them apart. Here itâ€™s like cement keeping the whole dysfunctional caboodle close. Perhaps too close, as doom is pretty much always knocking on their door, as they are ready to do anything to protect each other, even when the for-their-own-good part might be debatable. Sam does it. Dean does it. He will indeed do anything, too.
And so he does â€“ for the next 24 hours he will be Death, meaning â€˜you touch them, they die, I reap themâ€™ as Tessa explains. â€˜Remove the ring, you lose. Slack off, you lose. (â€¦) Donâ€™t mess this up, Dean. Itâ€™s not my job to be your damn baby sitter.â€™ It looks fairly easy at first â€“ the â€˜dickâ€™ in the store, the guy who ate too much of the good stuff to damage his heart. Alas, itâ€™s not going to stay that smooth.
Which is a blessing. As British historian Lord Acton once so astutely stated â€˜Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutelyâ€™, Dean is using his power with the robber to keep him, self-righteously, â€˜in agonizing painâ€™ a bit longer. He deserved it, was my first thought, but a second one told me â€“ how can I even think that? Who am I to decide who deserves to die and who does not? We donâ€™t know why he became a robber. What if this was his first time? What if he was forced to do it? What ifâ€¦.? Without knowing the whole story we canâ€™t make a decision like this.
In contrast to this streak of hubris in Dean at this moment the down-to-earth humility (if you can say that in this context) of Tessa and Death himself moves me. Itâ€™s not like there is no compassion in Tessa. Weâ€™ve seen glimpses of that in every episode she appeared. But she is aware that some elements have to be accepted as they are. Dean should know that, too, by now, but heâ€™s in denial here. He should know it after all the terrible consequences they as a family suffered when they tried to turn events (by making deals, etc).
Perhaps itâ€™s a blessing, too, for Dean at present that he doesnâ€™t know what Sam is doing, though he is also aware that his brother will try to torpedo his efforts. Bobby gets to play Lassie and watch him. A dangerous Lassie, alright. Unfortunately, heâ€™s dealing with a brilliant young hunter here, one that has no trouble escaping and getting to an abandoned factory building (or something in that neighbourhood) to perform a ritual that brings Balthazar down from his celestial shores.
Because â€“ he is terrified, isnâ€™t he? Now, how can a soulless character feel fear? He canâ€™t. Itâ€™s not only instinct, as that is a matter of seconds. This Sam is planning, being freaked out on a long run, because he can almost sense what it will mean to have that damaged, mutilated thing back from hell.
His voice is full of pressure â€“ he needs that spell to keep his soul out. He needs it so desperately that he even agrees to the most shady of terms: â€˜I will do it for free. (â€¦) you seem like a capable young man, Iâ€™d love to have you in my debt.â€™ And â€“ we can be sure of that, canâ€™t we â€“ that he will come back some day to collect Samâ€™s debts of honour. Sam knows this. He is, indeed, a capable young man, highly intelligent. But he agrees.
â€˜You need to scar your vessel.â€™
â€˜Meaning something that so pollutes it that it renders it uninhabitable.â€™
Ah, a classic mythological move. And what could be more scarring than killing the next thing you have to a father? â€˜the plot thickensâ€™ in truthâ€¦ Sam is plotting his way (while playing cards with Bobby, looking for a way to go through with his plan) to polluting his vessel while Dean is confronted with more and more questions.
Natural order, really?
A young girl is supposed to die. She has a serious heart condition. And Dean refuses to take her. Another aspect of absolute power â€“ he simply messes up the natural order of things.
I donâ€™t know how much we can actually influence in our lives and what is decided the moment we are born.
But there is a natural order in this world. In wildlife we see it in countless documentaries. Nature picks out those that wonâ€™t survive for long and they die â€“ being killed by natural enemies or simply die along the way. It has to be that way. This planet can provide for only a certain amount of inhabitants, canâ€™t it?
Man has pretty much messed up the natural order of life for a long time. Itâ€™s the blessing but also a curse of our civilization and scientific progress. True, in ancient times people didnâ€™t live long. But they rarely ever got dementia. That, for instance, is a disease of our modern times. Women didnâ€™t get children at a high age; today medicine makes it possible for women to have children even at the age of fifty. If that might be difficult for this child (when he has to begin to worry about his mother before he finishes school, because she might be about seventy then and at risk of getting seriously sick or in need of care) is not the question.
True, many diseases are stopped because we mess with the natural order. But sometimes things just are. When you mess with those there are consequences. Every action we take has consequences. Every single one. And sometimes those are hard to take.
The moment Dean decides to let the girl live, he seals the fate of the nurse who was â€˜supposed to live for many decadesâ€™. That had been her destiny.
But Dean canâ€™t accept that. Not after fighting destiny and its variations for years. His whole frustration with his life and his disappointment over being played by demons and angels alike fuels his actions and it might just be mere stubborn defiance when he utters his verdict. Heâ€™s very pleased with an â€˜isnâ€™t-this-much-betterâ€™ smirk to Tessa upon watching the happiness in the fatherâ€™s face when heâ€™s informed that there has been some sort of miracle.
Dean is doing what has been some kind of second or third nature to him â€“ defying fate. He and his brother have always been advocates for free will and choosing your own path. But â€“ free will doesnâ€™t apply to every aspect of living. Or dying.
Saving the girl Dean screws up. He keeps screwing things up. Itâ€™s not his natural calling, of course, and heâ€™s not a fast learner in this field. Well, I doubt anyone could do that in a day. And it hasnâ€™t even been a whole day.
He needs to tie the loose ends up again, else will â€˜chaos and sadness follow her (the girl) for the rest of her lifeâ€™ Tessa informs him â€“ but he knows that already, I reckon. He, of all people, knows. But still he makes the same mistakes. Despite his speech to his Grandfather, reminding him to learn from their mistakes, he, again, made a deal with a supernatural entity, since despair seems to be the mightier weapon compared to reason in a moment like that. He will hear later about the catchâ€¦
How do you stop the car of a drunken, depressed fresh widower who just wants to kill himself? Itâ€™s hardly possible, so intense is that new identity. To paraphrase Sylvia Plath: Widower. â€˜The word consumes itself.â€™ So, what can you do, Dean? You pull of your ring of power and freak him out (and confusing him even more when you disappear again. If he doesnâ€™t blame the booze, he will need some therapy sessions).
At this moment I could hear myself whispering: but what about Sam, now? That must have been an un-calculated, unplanned move for Dean. He wouldnâ€™t put Samâ€™s soul at risk. But he also wants to keep his guilt and shame account endurable, if possible. It was the instinct of a good person â€“ save those you can. He didnâ€™t have time to think. So, Dean acted in a heartbeat.
Heâ€™s learning, though. The hard way â€“ which is also a typical Winchester trait. The moment he steps into the girlâ€™s hospital room he is more humbled than before. He is aware of the necessities of this life and this lifeâ€™s dying. Though he agrees that â€˜natural order is stupidâ€™, he knows itâ€™s necessary. Perhaps now for the first time he truly accepts it. And that might be quite helpful for him and his loved ones in the future.
â€˜Iâ€™ve been born at night, boy, but it wasnâ€™t last night.â€™
Oh, Bobby. You have to deal with a new kind of fiend here â€“ the man you love like a son turned into a soulless thing you might have to stop â€“ that is: put away, injure, perhaps kill (my God). I can imagine those scenes from those days when he had to kill his wife come back to some corner of his head, as this time his beloved boy turned into another kind of monster. He must have felt desperate in his own way, but big words are not Bobbyâ€™s way.
He does his best, watching Sam, following him, hiding, but he seems to lack some of his trusty hunter instincts (like falling for the oldest trick ever, the blood â€˜bread crumbsâ€™ Sam laid out for him). What can he do if he doesnâ€™t want to kill Sam whoâ€™s axing the door to get to him? There is no animal more dangerous than a wounded one fighting for survival. Sam acts in a very similar way â€“ he is fighting for survival, ready to do anything to actually ensure that.
But Bobby not only has a panic room, heâ€™s also got his house bobby-trapped, ahem, booby trapped. Thereâ€™s the odd trapdoor, for instance, a reinforced steel door with titanium.
This Sam sees himself as a completely autonomous character. Deanâ€™s brother is â€˜that other guyâ€™ whoâ€™s to be brought back. Could it be entirely possible that some other kind of soul eventually began to be established in this vessel? And that wants to survive?
He almost kills Bobby. He truly would have done it. In that case â€“ I am very relieved that Dean pulled Deathâ€™s ring off earlier than expected. My goodness! Does the emotional turmoil never end?
We are where weâ€™ve been before â€“ Sam shackled to that cot, Bobby and Dean outside with steaming heads, pleading with themselves what to do. Except this time the relationships are severely changed. Will Bobby be able to put that experience away when he looks at â€˜realâ€™ Sam? Will he trust him the way he used to? Iâ€™d hope he would, but then again â€“ we havenâ€™t been in a situation like this before.
Dean doesnâ€™t know what to do, either. Heâ€™s had this one hope for now and he blew it (or so he thinks). As looks into the panic room and at his awakening brother there are pages of dialogue going on between those two.
I am again, and for the umpteenth time, astonished and in awe watching these two amazing young actors work. What both show here and in the whole season so far has been some of the best acting talent one could imagine.
â€˜Heavier than it looks, isnâ€™t it?â€™
And thereâ€™s the catch, sitting there having fast food and inviting Dean to join him. Strangely enough it verges on the absurd to have a distinguished, dignified and powerful creature as Death consume hot dogs and beer.
It has dawned on Dean that he might not get another chance like this to get his brotherâ€™s soul back. And heâ€™s sitting there in Deathâ€™s presence like a little boy whoâ€™s shy and now quite sure what to say.
Death, on the other hand, has a lot to say. â€˜You throw away your life because youâ€™ve come to assume it will bounce right back into your lap. The human soul is not a rubber ball. Itâ€™s vulnerable, impermanent but stronger than you know. And more valuable than you can imagine.â€™
He must know, as heâ€™s been reaping souls for ages. Death, what exactly is he? When we look back at ancient times, we find Thanatos in the Greek civilizations, the twin brother of the god of sleep, Hypnos, a impartial and calm entity. In Abrahamic religions (including Judaism, Islam and Christianity), Death is an angel, sometimes identified with Satan. In the New Testamentâ€™s Epistle to the Hebrews we find the belief that Satan holds power over Death. The Roman Catholic church claims that the archangel Michael is the good angel of Death who carries the souls to Heaven.
I wonder how this might add up in our show. Is Death another player in Luciferâ€™s game of chess? Preparing whatever plan because souls are the most precious currency of all? This reminds me of the Chris de Burgh song â€˜A Spanish Trainâ€™: â€˜â€¦and far away in some recess, the Lord and the Devil are now playing chess, the Devil still cheats and wins more souls and as for the Lord, well, heâ€™s just doing his best.â€™
There is more going on behind the curtain, and we will be led to it in the course of the following episodes, I dare say.
â€˜You and your brother keep coming back. Youâ€™re an affront to the balance of the universe. And you cause disruption on a global scale. (â€¦) but you have use. Right now youâ€™re digging at something, intrepid detective. I want you to keep digging, Dean.â€™
â€˜Youâ€™re just gonna be cryptic?â€™
â€˜Itâ€™s about the souls.â€™
The Lord and the devil are now playing chessâ€¦.?
And because Death (and in all likelihood someone else in the wings of this global stage) wants the Winchesters to keep on digging, he collects Samâ€™s soul in his old-fashioned medical doctorâ€™s case. But Sam, still chained as he was, is freaked out. He doesnâ€™t want this torture forced upon him.
I felt my tears well up the moment Death speaks about the vulnerability of the human soul and they wouldnâ€™t stop flowing and increased in quantity as Sam was about to get his soul back. As I am writing this, they knock on my door again.
It took me a while to figure out why I reacted in this manner to it. Looking into it was painful, and I understood Sam better than I believed possible.
Have any of you, kind reader, experienced traumatic events of any kind? Judging from my work and the high amount of traumatized patients Iâ€™ve treated so far I would assume there are a few among you who have had to go through something deeply traumatizing.
Well, so have I. In my life, if I count them, there have been three events I would describe as traumatic. One cost me my career on stage as it took my singing voice, another weakened the possibility of ever having children. I learned to cope with those moments in my life that left me scarred, and â€“ I guess thatâ€™s a very human trait â€“ I put them behind a wall, too. Not in the sense of suppressing them, as I am constantly aware of what happened, but in the sense of putting them away in order to not think about them on a daily basis. Thatâ€™s how I survived. Go on living and find it beautiful nevertheless because you donâ€™t want the pain to win. But thatâ€™s just me.
Knowing the depth of sadness and pain thatâ€™s behind that wall and knowing how it feels like when itâ€™s awakened in times when I feel vulnerable or when I am stressed out, I would give everything sometimes to get rid of those memories for good. But I canâ€™t.
I understand from a very personal viewpoint why Sam doesnâ€™t want his soul back.
On the other hand â€“ when I look at my own experiences I also see that I grew through those. I became the person I am today. Very vulnerable but also strong, deeply flawed but compassionate, loving.
Knowing that Sam, despite his youth, is a man of exceptional strength of character and taken from my own knowledge that you can overcome horrific things I just want (and need) to believe that he will be capable of learning to live with whatever is hidden behind that wall he isnâ€™t allowed to even scratch. And I believe, Dean has still a lot to learn in that department, as he remembers his days in hell, too. And I donâ€™t think is has got easier for him, heâ€™s just better at putting it away.
A question of dignity
This episode poses a variety of philosophical, theological or political questions, and what strikes me most is the element of human dignity thatâ€™s mirrored in several scenes. Are we allowed to disrupt the natural order to save someoneâ€™s life (you could also see the question of a humane or decent process of dying and how that might be achieved)? Is it acceptable to force anything (or what we think to be the right thing) onto others?
The first line of the German constitution says: â€˜The dignity of men is unimpeachable.â€™ The United Nations General Assembly of 1948 founded the Universal Declaration of Human Rights proclaiming in its first article: â€˜All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.â€™ Similar articles are to be found in the constitutions of many countries.
The whole concept of human dignity is based on the assumption that all men are endowed with equal rights that are universal, inalienable and undividable merely by reason of being human.
We donâ€™t have to discuss that those rights are not always being respected. One look at our world proves that. Renowned Swiss psychoanalyst Dr Leon Wurmser stated â€˜Shame is the guardian of human dignity.â€™ It stands in close relationship with guilt. And both subjects have repeatedly been a theme in Supernatural.
Both, shame and guilt, are deeply personal if not selfish emotions. They circulate around the person whoâ€™s ashamed or feeling guilty. That person is in the centre of those emotions and the assumptions connected to it â€“ about what theyâ€™ve done wrong, what they need to make amends, how others might perceive them because of that, etc.
And, well, as Iâ€™ve discussed in other articles before, those questions are a part of the driving force of our characters. (If you like check out for instance "Torture and Survival of Dean Winchester" and "Sam and Dean - Guilty as Hell?")
Shame and guilt are primary social affects: they regulate privacy and public sphere, nearness and distance, belonging and debarment, adjustment and moral behaviour.
We have to draw a line, though, between shame and humiliation. The first is an emotion of the person whoâ€™s ashamed (or feeling guilty), the latter is forced upon a person by outer elements. And then it becomes a violation of human dignity and personal rights.
This violation has been forced upon Sam in that last scene, and I shudder at the thought. One could see it as an allegory to rape. Youâ€™d have to be deaf and blind to miss that. Intention of the writers?
If we look at that being that is Sam right now, a man operating on instinct level, unaware of social etiquette and quite clumsy at it, we could also look at an innocent creature forced to protect himself, like a child thrown in to the wilderness and only able to rely on his deepest instincts of survival. An animal would react in that way. Driven into a corner, even the mildest beast will try to defend itself.
Innocence destroyed. This Sam has not known the beauty and the terrors of having a soul. Within that train of thought he was a virgin. Not anymore. It disturbs me more than I believed possible.
If this is a war, then he has become a casualty of it. Unfortunately, there is no war where violations on this scale donâ€™t happen. Peopleâ€™s bodies are being invaded â€“ by weapons, by rape, by torture. The damage is unfathomable.
I think two variations of shame and guilt collide here in the characters of Sam and Dean â€“ there is â€˜intimacy-shameâ€™ thatâ€™s supposed to guard the borders of privacy and intimacy, the core of a person. This element takes care about how much of ourselves we want to share with others or may need to hide.
Shame appears when our physical or spiritual borders are injured. We might cause those injuries ourselves by exposing too much of our inner thoughts and being subjected to ridicule, for instance. Or we might become a victim of this shame passively â€“ when others disclose something intimate to us or subject us to physical force (as, for example, with torture or rape).
The other kind one could describe as moral shame or guilt, in terms of being in accordance with our conscience. Its task is to guard our moral integrity. The Latin word integritas means â€˜intactness, purity, honesty.â€™ So, this element strives to keep us true to ourselves. The point of reference are not social guidelines but personal values.
When we donâ€™t honour the values our conscience dictates, we will feel this kind of shame and guilt. When we remain in debt to those values we try to live by, we will feel ashamed and try to change that.
Sam needs to protect his intimacy. Dean his conscience. Alas, Dean violates Samâ€™s borders to act according to his inner moral compass.
This has also been a recurring theme throughout the showâ€™s so far six seasons. How do we act when we are convinced to do the right thing â€“ are we willing to force it upon another? Itâ€™s been done before. Dean sold his soul to get Sam back, thereby installing tremendous fear and guilt in Sam. Sam went for his plan with Ruby, thereby leaving Dean with issues of abandonment, self-doubts, and the like. John sold his soul to save Dean and trapped his son in serious guilt issues. I could go on.
At this point, Sam has been forced to take back this damaged soul by Dean. Dean has been forced to act this way by his inner sense of integrity. Thereâ€™s a lot of violence within those menâ€™s souls. I wonder how they still keep going and not give up when they see that all their efforts usually lead to destruction and pain.
I think it only works because there is still a lot of dignity and strength within them â€“ but they need to protect that from the assaults of the demonic and heavenly world.
Sam will probably not keep still when he is back in his body. He will know something is wrong with him, since restoring his soul with a barrier to keep back the tide means exactly that. He will feel that there is something else. He will know that having been in hell (which he probably will remember) means that he didnâ€™t get out unscathed. And, inquisitive as he has always been, he will go scratching at that wall.
It will in all likelihood leak anyhow. Thatâ€™s how the human psyche works â€“ when triggered by certain elements it leaks hints of memories. I expect nightmares. Perhaps hallucinations. Feelings of confusion he canâ€™t explain.
I feel so very much for these guys. Neither is saved now. Sam with his trauma that will surface sooner or later. Dean trapped in his mind knowing that he forced something upon his brother and didnâ€™t give him a chance to decide for himself.
All are marred. Beyond repair? I donâ€™t know, yet. Their relationships will never be the same. They will be caught in a battle for souls, it seems, with their own damaged. How do you survive? How do you keep loving the other after such an ordeal?
All, Sam, Dean, Bobby, the whole remaining family, are at a turning point. And I? My God â€“ I canâ€™t shed the shiver deep inside. I feel reminded of personal wounds that I had hoped to have overcome for good. But, even the resident therapists keeps learning â€“ you canâ€™t bury wounds forever or pretent they donâ€™t exist. You can only learn to live with them.
If this doesnâ€™t hold true for Sam and Dean Winchester, â€˜I never writ nor no man ever lovedâ€™ (to use the words of immortal Shakespeare for the umpteenth time). Their battle is only just beginning.