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Open Supernatural Couch - Mannequin 3: The Reckoning
The Glass Half Full
Is there anything more terrifying than seeing a person you love on the floor, unconscious, unresponsive? I bet some events come close, but this opening sequence send chills down my spine, and as Sam is trapped in his flashbacks, feeling his skin sizzle off for a perceived week, I am being reminded of a horrific scene in AllHellBreaksLoose. The desperate tone of voice coming from Deanâ€™s core as he held his dead brother in his arm is the same we hear now. He checks him for vital signs, afraid that the Great Wall of Sam had crumbled and he had lost his brother. Again. On his watch.
More memories race through my mind, and flashbacks of my own crawl up from my locked-away past to the surface: a moment I had been unconscious and my boyfriend at the time kept praying â€˜please come back, please come backâ€™, words that somehow reached me in the darkness and brought me back. I remember his unfathomable relief and how hard he hugged me when I came to. That was a chilling moment for both of us. You donâ€™t forget that. And Dean wonâ€™t forget it. He hasnâ€™t forgot the other moment this scene looks like a mirror of, Iâ€™m sure. Heâ€™s back in that wet, muddy ghost town where he lost his brother the first time.
â€˜Sammy!!! Come onâ€¦ come onâ€¦â€™ His voice embracing all ranges from fraught to helpless to defeated to desperately angry. â€˜Come on, dammit!â€™
As Sam opens his eyes, he strains to breathe, still caught in the pain. I have to commend Jaredâ€™s acting once again. I donâ€™t know if heâ€™s ever seen a person coming back from a dissociative seizure. But he looks as if he just had one. Heâ€™s just as exhausted, troubled by headaches (I assume), while Dean gets him, confused and shaky, out of there.
We donâ€™t see how Dean supports Sam getting out of their hideout, yet I think itâ€™s safe to presume, knowing these brothers, that Dean shoved Sammy into the Impala and drove off, disregarding speed limits. Samâ€™s experiences in Hell are still shrouded in many shadowy mysteriesâ€¦
What we do see now, however, is the first murder executed by a doll. An anatomically precise doll, actually, of the kind used in class to depict the position of human organs. We had one of those in Med School. And even in Psychology. Itâ€™s a quite popular item. And itâ€™s super creepy.
Here we are with the number two of things that scare me the most. Number one would be clowns, then dolls (of all kinds, mostly porcelain dolls, but this kind does the trick also), then kids (hello, little creepy Provenance killer girl)â€¦ So, Iâ€™m grabbing on to my couch as the eyes of the damn thing start to focus on Mr. Mop who doesnâ€™t survive the encounter for more than a minute.
â€˜Lucky for you, Iâ€™m a doctor.â€™
Oh, Sam, if I felt like I got hit by a planet, Iâ€™d have headaches, too. Speaking off, the next time someone asks me how I feel when I have some of my infamous (and horrific) migraines again, I will borrow that line. Talk about bringing a bit of Supernatural into your everyday life. Because â€“ it pretty much feels like thatâ€¦ very descriptive and accurate hereâ€¦
Okay. Dean offers Sam various coping strategies â€“ meds, alcohol, violence. Because, those worked for him, effectively. We actually learn a lot about Deanâ€™s survival mechanisms in this episode, and since the show was initially designed with two main characters coming from a more or less blue-collar background, their coping strategies match. Or, at least, Deanâ€™s do. Sam, on the other hand, escaped that background and chose an academic road for a while, where he probably developed his healthy approach to eating and coping. He doesnâ€™t drown his worries in alcohol, not right away, though. He tries other strategies first, only if those donâ€™t work or when his heart is wrecked too much (like in Playthings or IKnowWhatYouDidLastSummer) he drowns his fears in booze.
Donâ€™t get me wrong. I donâ€™t wish to depreciate â€˜blue-collarâ€™ people. I come from that background, myself. My parents were hard workers, and I am actually the first person in our entire family who took a different, academic direction. Alcohol was never an issue in my family, but it has been with friends. And patients of mine who come from that background, too, often find refuge with exactly those coping techniques Dean mentions here. I wonder, though, what kind of meds Dean was offering. Since he took them himself, Iâ€™d go with pills to lessen his stress and anxiety while not slowing him down (as he wished to stay alert, even when he was living with Lisa and Ben), so they wonâ€™t be classic tranquilizers. And here the shrink sighs because she doesnâ€™t get a close look at the bottle to satisfy her professional curiosity.
Itâ€™ a very heartfelt conversation we get here. Dean, in older brother mode and somewhat angry at his younger sibling for scratching that wall and bringing himself to the brink of being â€“ in truth â€“ electrocuted by his memories.
â€˜Whatâ€™s past stays past! Youâ€™re not kicking that wall again!â€™
â€˜So, Iâ€™m just supposed to ignore it?â€™
â€˜I might have doneâ€¦ who knows what. And you want me to just forget about it?â€™
â€˜You shove it down and you let it come out in spurts of violence and alcoholism.â€™
â€˜That sounds healthy.â€™
â€˜Works for me. This is not a joke. Your life is on the line here, Sam. This is not a debate. First you were a soulless dickbag and now youâ€™re not. So weâ€™re good?â€™
Their different approaches to this problem are again evident and clear â€“ Dean trying to use his preferred mechanism, avoidance, while Sam goes with his inquisitive and penitent mind. Despite being aware how disturbing this situation is for Dean, Sam canâ€™t just ignore the fact that he was responsible for â€˜who knows whatâ€™ kind of atrocities without his soul, his moral compass. Even after getting a first glimpse of what experiencing flashbacks of this kind means, he has trouble just letting it be. I think itâ€™s a testament to his courage that he is still willing to explore what he did, in spite of the pain he experienced during those agonizing two to three minutes.
I think both brothers might need a bit of education about how the unconscious works. Since I have discussed that in previous articles, Iâ€™m not going to be redundant here. The problem is, the unconscious doesnâ€™t answer to any conscious master. You canâ€™t control it. You canâ€™t awaken it by the power of your will. The only influence you can have comes from confronting possible triggers to open doors to that stored away memory file. You can try to open Pandoraâ€™s box by deliberately exposing yourself to moments/noises/scents and the like that hold a connection to your past. And even then the unconscious decides whether it is ready to open a door â€“ or not.
Even if Sam thinks â€˜I want to rememberâ€™ he wonâ€™t be able to achieve that by sheer volition. The human mind doesnâ€™t work that way. And since he doesnâ€™t recall many memories, he will have trouble finding a specific stimulus to scratch the Great Wall of Sam with it. Occasionally he will stumble over a trigger (like the road sign in the last episode) that will bring memories to his conscious mind. But no matter how hard Sam tries to evoke anything from his soulless past, he wonâ€™t get the response he yearns for. That he wants it so much will keep him sentient and responsive for potential memories and that will in all likelihood help pave the road a bit. But the wall will come down when the unconscious deems it necessary, not earlier, no matter how much Sam likes to scrape at the damn thing.
Dean has a point in offering him the possibility of cathartic violence. I think thatâ€™s what he means when he says that â€˜you let it come out in spurts of violenceâ€™. I imagine that Dean does have some experience in that field. We remember the last scene from YouCanâ€™tHandleTheTruth where Dean beat Sam to a bloody pulp, as one example. Another would be his torture of Alistair in OnTheHeadOfAPin. At the time, these violent measures served his homoeostasis, to relieve dammed up drives, reducing tension and ending in a form of break down with him realizing â€“ horrified â€“ what he had done.
To blow off steam is clinically desirable and necessary. If you throw a bottle against a wall, you achieve a cathartic effect, reducing stress, without becoming an offender. The simplest variant of this kind of cathartic violence is the common outburst of rage. If we watched ourselves in slow motion at a moment like that, weâ€™d notice that we become very still in moment before we burst. Muscle tone increases, accompanied by augmented perspiration and elevated blood pressure. The moment of the outburst, then, the tension dissolves and that creates a sensation of release and liberation, as if you let an edgy dog off the leash.
Cathartic violence canâ€™t be repeated indefinitely. The effect loses its power. Ideally itâ€™s denoted by an outburst that is followed by calmness and fatigue and gradual inner relaxation, so that repetition becomes unnecessary. If violence is used repeatedly, often it loses its cathartic character, reinforcing itself, and the desired effect decreases. This stems from the physiology of the brain â€“ when a specific neuronal area is used repeatedly this area is easier accessed.
So, acting violently, occasionally and controlled, can have the effect Dean offers to Sam, and Sam has had moments like that, too, for instance in WhenTheLeveeBreaks where he blew off the steam stemming from Deanâ€™s doubting him by fighting with him. And, I guess, he did a lot of it while being without his soul, as his disposition to violence was a much more accessible one. But itâ€™s not in Samâ€™s nature, not really, even though he has been violent under pressure. And Sam canâ€™t accept Deanâ€™s idea. To him itâ€™s not healthy.
Before you get me wrong, kind readers, Iâ€™m not saying that violence is in Deanâ€™s nature. He just chose that form of coping before and probably more often than Sam and knows about the possible cathartic effect.