The Supernatural episode “Don't You Forget About Me” is aptly named. Taken from the closing song from the 1980s movie The Breakfast Club, we can take the closing letter of that movie and apply the same concept to the story presented here. In it, we see a group of misfits or outsiders defined by others. They are labeled, classified, and targeted by the monster of the week. Those labels, however, do not truly define them. Instead, rather, it is through the defiance of each character that allows the truth to emerge and the strength of their bonds to be forged. After all, Claire may seem like a basket-case, Alex may have transformed into the princess, Jody may be the “hanging on by my finger tips” mom, but go beneath these presentations and we find them to be stronger and so much more complex. Sam and Dean, too, are beyond such labeling---as mere hunters. They transcend and truly become part of the family that Jody, Claire, and Alex are making---and in the end that's the real label that matters.
First, how do we see them labeled by those around them? How do we see those labels shape each character? How does it hide who they really are and what they're really becoming? How do they go from those labels and definitions to the true one: that of family?
Let's start with Claire. In the beginning of the episode, we see a typical opening with two teenagers in a truck. They're preparing to have sex---the girl nervous, the guy eager. It's classic horror movie set up---and as the door opens and the boy is grabbed, instead of seeing a monster killing him, we see Claire holding a sword to his throat, furious that he's about to kill this girl and accusing him of being a monster. In this moment, Claire is the one prescribing the labels without knowing the true facts or nature of this young man. She sees what she wants to see in him. She has defined him and there is no convincing her otherwise.
Outwardly, others have already labeled Claire as a basket-case. She is seeing monsters everywhere. She is desperately trying to find any hunts, track any monster down, and kill it. Claire has chosen to escape into it rather than attend school. She doesn't want to be normal. Claire finds the reality out there---the supernatural reality---far more alluring. In a way, she is simply trying to cope with the fact that her family has forever been destroyed by a supernatural intrusion. Rather than try and bury herself in a normality, she has chosen to instead embrace the supernatural world in order to perhaps make a difference or do something that matters in the aftermath of her traumatic childhood.
Unfortunately, due to her lack of skills or ability to prove that her claims about a supernatural attack, Claire has been labeled as a “menace to innocent people.” The boy she held a sword on wanted to press charges. She embarrassed Jody. Jody states, “And before that was the vampire. Council woman into erotic cosplay. I didn't know what cospaly was before that, super embarrassing for the force.” Claire has shut herself off from the world around her---or at least the non supernatural one---and in so doing she has allowed the label assigned to her become her identity.
In reality, that cannot be further from the truth. Claire is not a basket-case. She is not a menace. She is not the problem child. Instead, she is hiding from facing her own past, her own future, and her present by escaping into the world of hunting. It matters not that she's eventually proven right that those missing have been taken by a vampire---including herself, Jody, and Alex. Hunting relentlessly as she does means she need not ever actually face the fact that she feels left out---that she doesn't fit into the family she already sees formed between Jody and Alex. She's a third wheel and so she's decided to fill her time with something else. In so doing, that label of basket-case hurts her more than she realizes.
Her actions, therefore, are a cry for help---a plea for attention. She wants Jody to see her the way she sees Alex. She wants Jody to accept her as a trainee as a hunter, to help her know how to work a case, and see her as smart and skilled and important. Rather than trying to push her into college, Claire wishes that Jody would see her as a capable young woman who is telling the truth about the situation. She doesn't want her fixation on hunting to be seen as an idiosyncrasy or a problem.
Most of all, Claire seems to want to see her role in their strange living situation more clearly defined. She has a nice room, she has great meals prepared for her, she has opportunities being handed to her---but those aren't as fulfilling as what she seeks. Claire wants to change her label from being a basket-case or menace to a daughter and sister. She wants to be considered part of this family. It may never replace the one that she lost, but both Jody and Alex can understand this notion. They, too, were touched by the supernatural. They, too, lost their families to its grip. Here, Claire knows that she should be understood and she seeks that throughout.
She tells Sam, “Sometimes I feel like I'm a little late to the Jody and Alex show.” It's a truth that reveals everything about her placement---and the weight of the label she bears.
Enduring the vicious attacks from Richard and Henry, however, allows Claire to forge a new bond. She can see how Alex's past has tormented her and that she is taking blame upon herself that isn't her own. By telling Alex that, she sheds the label of basket-case. By helping her prepare breakfast for Jody, Claire is accepting her new label as a Wayward Daughter. She's no longer on the outside of their family. Instead, she's become one of them, too. It is a bond she can now rely upon for the rest of her life---a connection that Claire will be able to build from and grow.
Jody, too, is struggling. She's trying to find her own label, to define where she belongs with these young women. Jody isn't sure how she should see herself. She's not sure how they see her. To connect with them, she must find a way to understand how they all fit together. This isn't an easy transition, nor is it clean cut or neat. Jody didn't simply take these young girls into her home and have everything turn out perfectly. Instead, it has been a fight every step of the way to align the dynamics and their place within it. None of it has come easily.
But that doesn't mean Jody will give up easily.
She hasn't had a family of her own in her house since hers were killed at the height of the Apocalypse. To top it all off, the new family she's brought into her home are already in their teens. She tells Dean, “I'm not Alex's mom. I'm not Claire's mom. I didn't raise them. I don't have that kind of history with them.”
Instead, her label is that of law enforcement, of the stand in parent they seem to defy, and the victim the vampire will vent his frustrations upon.
Unlike Claire or Alex, however, she is not hiding from anything. She knows that this is a tough and sticky situation. She confesses to Dean, “Don't get me wrong, I love those girls, but I'm hanging on by my fingertips.” Instead, Jody isn't trying so much to buck a label assigned to her as much as she's trying to define one she's taking on herself. She very much wants to be their mother---someone they can trust and turn to and rely upon whenever it gets to be challenging.
Jody is prepared to face on both the supernatural and the “normal.” She can tell that Alex is getting in over her head with her boyfriend---the birth control pills in her book bag are a dead giveaway. When Claire brings that aspect out at the dinner table, she jumps on it right away. She states, “If we can't talk about it we shouldn't be doing it.” Jody's floundering, yes, but she's putting in an extreme effort to wear the label mom and she hopes that these two girls will clearly see her defined as such. She's also not willing to let Claire simply flounder or escape into hunting. She refuses to back down when Claire tries to wiggle out of going to the college to re-enroll.
And when they're brutally attacked by the vampire that kidnaps them, it is Jody that fights hard to keep most of the violence and brutality from striking Claire. She will take the greatest injuries if need be all in order to keep one of her girls safe. In that moment, Jody goes from trying to put on the label of mother to becoming the mother---she is by all rights then and there their mom in all ways. Jody also begs and screams at the vampire not to hurt Alex. She is driven by her desire to protect and nurture them.
Even so, the label of mother doesn't have to be the stereotypical or cardboard cut out society paints it as. She is just as defensive of these two girls---but her transformation into their mother is anything but standard. Jody is fully aware that there will be more bumps in the road---of either the “normal” or supernatural variety---and that the familial relationships they're forging here will not be easily maintained. It will take a lot of hard work, patience, and and unconventionality that will make them truly mother and wayward daughters. It is Jody's insistence and diligence to taking upon that mantle that will allow the role of mother to be redefined, too. It need not be so strict or rigidly defined as caretaker. It may be someone who listens, who works through things, and fights alongside her daughters so that they may be stronger and better equipped women as they eventually go out into the greater world.
By Jody doing so, she's creating a much better meaning for the term mother---all in her strong and capable way. She's also teaching her girls that they need not accept the labels assigned---but that they should define themselves.
How does Alex capture the bucking of labels? She has transformed greatly since being taken in by Jody Mills after being rescued from the nest she served as lure for eight years. She has settled in, is doing well in school, and is part of the soccer team. She tells Jody, “Chem-lab, I fell asleep in a pool of my own drool. Oh, and coach is calling double practice. Mid-field needs serious tightening.” Her friend is giddy that she may be looking at royalty as Alex and Henry, the most popular boy in school, walk hand in hand. Prom is coming up and they are the shoo-in for the vote. This is a great contrast to the cold and calculating lure and the frightened little girl that we met in “Alex Annie Alexis Ann.”
Since high school plays such a factor within the construct of the episode, Alex has certainly put herself into the princess mode. She's allowed that definition to become her, gladly becoming a social butterfly, eager to please in school, and to be considered a top the school hierarchy. It is safer. But it isn't any less constricting or dangerous than being a lure for a vampire nest. Instead, it has become like a gilded cage---all without Alex being aware of it. She's hiding from that awful past---objecting anytime hunting is mentioned and butting heads with Claire over the issue at every turn. Alex wants to flee into this high school world to save herself from being pulled back into a dark and supernatural nightmare that could and would consume her wholly.
But it puts a label on her, makes her less than herself, and opens herself to vulnerabilities from the monster that lurks in the dark, waiting to exact revenge.
Alex struggles to cope with her past, too, after her favorite teacher has been brutally murdered. His body has been run up the flag pole for all to see. It jars her from the fantasy she's willingly created for herself. She talks with her boyfriend, Henry, about how she regrets her past. She tells him, “There are awful things out there. Henry, I wasn't always this girl. Sometimes I look at myself in the mirror and I'm like that's me? You should know I've done some really bad things. Hurt people. I should have told you before.”
It's too hard to think about where she's been and what she's done. She's afraid if he should ever learn the truth that he'll see her in a different way---redefining her in a new role with a new label that isn't any better than the ones she's worn before. The darker reality that lurks on the edges of her idyllic high school life make her face that past in a new and frightening way that makes her want to save him and anyone else from its evil.
While with Henry, later, she is warned not to go off by herself. She's stunned by the revelation that it's a vampire that's been taking people in Sioux Falls. Her instant reaction is to tell Henry to get away. He can't get caught up in this mess and she won't allow him to get hurt. Her other self---the one labeled a monster in its own way---has come back to haunt her and she fears that he'll be dragged down right with her. Unfortunately, it's already too late. Henry is a vampire and he kidnaps her, taking her to the school to confront her past head on.
There, the vampire behind all of these attacks is holding Claire and Jody hostage. He demands to know if she remembers him. Alex is oblivious. She doesn't recognize this man, nor does she know what he's after. It isn't until he says, “You don't remember? You took my life and you don't remember. Three years ago. Nebraska. Some sleazebag was taking you home outside of a bar and I chased him off. You were so young and I could see that you didn't want anything to do with the guy, I mean I thought some pimp was working you,” that Alex has any idea as to why this man would be after her. She only knows that he is a vampire and he's after all of them.
To drive it home further, he tells her, “I went home to tell my wife what happened, but see I was covered in blood---my own blood---which made me crazy, starving. I lost control. I gutted her and my boy.”
As it dawns on her and she remembers the dark thing she did to him, she pleads not for her life but for Jody and Claire's. Alex knows that she has earned the label he's given her: monster. She has indeed been that to him as his tragic story unfolds. Instead of watching her new family die, instead of watching them suffer, Alex will give herself up willingly. She'll become a lure for Richard and the nest they will build. She is shattered by the revelation that she is the reason his family has been destroyed. That was then. Alex was under the control of the vampire nest run by Mama. It was the only way she could survive and while it doesn't make it right it doesn't make her the vicious monster this vampire now tries to label her as. He is defining her as he wants to see her---the person that he has dreamed of getting revenge on for years.
Not only did Richard want to kill Alex, he wanted her to suffer. So, he gave her a shot at the princess position---turning Henry, the school's most popular boy, and allowing Alex to get a taste of normal, of happiness, of security before he'd rip it away and bring her down low. The second label Alex may have accepted willingly, but it does not define her anymore than the label of monster. Instead, it confines her. It doesn't allow her true nature or self to emerge---the one that we see willingly to give up herself in order to save others.
In the aftermath, once is over and they are back in Jody's kitchen, Alex willingly and humbly teams up with Claire to make it up to both of them. She carries the guilt that she brought this down on them. Jody brushes that off and tells her gently, “Hey, we're fine. We're in three whole pieces, more or less.” Claire backs her up, stating, “It was those vamps. You were kid. You had to do what they said.” Both of them are eager to forgive her and cast aside the labels Richard the vampire assigned to her in his tragic need to exact revenge. They see Alex as so much more. They see her as valuable and as a whole person with a past that they can relate to and understand.
In the end, Alex truly learned to buck those labels, and rather than allowing them to define her, she has opened her eyes to her new reality. She may not be able to be around those who hunt---as she confesses to Sam---but she can't ever truly be totally boxed into a normal life. Instead, she may have to rely on the new role she has, the new definition she's earned now more than ever: a sister and daughter.
That's indeed what Alex has become and while she may break away on her own at some point, Alex is truly a wayward daughter to Jody and a sister to Claire. She will always wear those labels---and they will not define or confine her but rather exemplify the truth of who she really is. It will show her “goodness” and her ability to love. It is her family that she can turn to in any need or crisis---and she has proven that she, too, will be there for them as they are for her.
After all, “family don't end with blood,” and that's a tradition she's learned well from the Winchesters indeed.
What labels have been given to the Winchesters? Who give these labels? How do they defy them to become who they really are? How does it change their viewpoints about themselves---and help them prepare for the fight they have yet to endure? How do Sam and Dean become wayward sons in the scheme of things?
The Winchesters. They are seen as law enforcement---the FBI---as they assist Jody with the growing case. Sam and Dean are seen as hunters. These labels are accurate. Sam and Dean are those things---but that is all surface and unimportant in the reality of who they really are. These labels are not what totally defines them. They are, in reality, a mask that Sam and Dean willingly put on to hide their true identities. It serves their purposes well, allowing them to do their jobs and commit to the task of “saving people, hunting things, family business.”
The label that the Winchesters must defy, then, is one that they've assigned to themselves. That label is outsider. Claire may have called them in distress---and they answered without hesitation, but Sam and Dean know they are still outside the situation. Each of them---Alex, Claire, and Jody---all have their own unique ties to Sam and Dean, and yet the brothers are not part of their daily lives. They are outside it and therefore see themselves as removed from what is happening here.
In many ways, this is due to the distances between them and Sioux Falls as they traverse the United States after other hunts or targets such as Amara. In others, it is because Sam and Dean have not had the chance to tie each bond together in a clear manner. It is obvious, as they see the three interact, that there is a fresh and new dynamic that does not necessarily include them. From the very start, Alex and Claire are shouting at each other. Alex accuses Claire of sleeping too late. Claire accuses Alex of taking too long in the bathroom. Jody tries to rein in the situation by reminding them that the Winchesters aren't here to “see you kill each other.”
This situation seems foreign to them in that regard. They're watching a family unit clash all without knowing what is driving it entirely or how those changes in each woman has shaped that dynamic. Sam and Dean, then, must find a way to connect with each of them in their own ways and tie it all together so they will feel less outside and included as wayward sons. That foreign feeling only continues as the brothers are confronted by a much more awkward conversation: that of birth control.
It is clear, even in the humor and hilarity of Sam and Dean's attempted escapes at dinner, that they see themselves as outsiders. Sam remarks, “This sounds like family business,” only to be shushed and told to “sit and stay.” This outsider label is one that they must cast aside to truly take these women into their own family and remember what family truly means to them. In their own ways, Sam and Dean are also guiding all three to arrive to the conclusions that they are part of a family---an unconventional Winchester style family not defined by blood but by deed and sacrifice and turmoil.
Dean is uncomfortable with all the talk about birth control---and yet he has no problem assessing the situation at hand. He can tell that Claire is being most ungrateful. He sympathizes with her seeing monsters lurking in the shadows, but he will not allow her to be so angry or to lash out at Jody. It is Jody's role that he hopes to build up and help define. He understands how it might be difficult for the Sheriff to reach this young woman and she does not need Claire to buck every rule or demand put to her.
He tells her, “And you know what you were right, okay? There is something unnatural going on here---but you can't just walk up in front of a bunch of officers and demand that the sheriff give you details on a murder investigation. You need to show Jody a little respect. She did you a huge solid by taking you in. She got you set up at school. No one wants to school, Claire. It's school! My point is, she's been busting her ass to get you set you up with a life. She's feeding you. Hell, you have a nicer room than I have now. She's kept you out of jail. You need to act like you give a crap.”
It may not have a lot of finesse, but it allows him to go from being outside the situation to inside. It allows him to reach out to her and perhaps make her realize that her behavior isn't at all helpful. It allows Dean to reforge the bond he built with her after the case surrounding Clarie's mother. Dean, as an outsider, can make points that Jody might not be able to make. His opinion may hold far more weight because he's not necessarily entrenched in the daily routine. Assessing the situation the outside, however, allows him to see what is really going on and bring her back into line---and as a member of the Winchester's most unconventional family. After all, Jody did most of these things for Claire without being asked---something that family can and does for one another. Dean is simply reminding her of that fact.
With Alex, Dean sees Jody's concern about how “normal” life may be threatening her future. He may not have been comfortable discussing birth control, but he can see what Henry is---even if he doesn't realize he's a vampire just yet. The young man is after Alex only as a conquest. It's why he stares down the boy, knowing that “hanging out” may not be so simple. He also wants Alex to be safe and able to live that normal life she's carving out with Jody's help.
Meanwhile, Sam, too, also tries to reach out to Claire and establish himself within this new unconventional family. He's been where she is---teetering between hunting life and school. Sam's had to struggle to find his place within the world, so he relates completely with her dilemma. In that way, he can go from being an outsider to an insider---a wayward son. By taking her under his own wing, Sam's able to mentor her and give Claire food for thought so she can decide her future for herself---rather than strong arming her into what she must do or must not do.
Sam is gentle and patient with Claire as he sits with her in her room. He isn't overbearing. He's not malicious in any way. He is kind. He asks her questions about what is going on and tries to understand where she is coming from. He tells her, “I know how it can be. The hunter life consumes you. There's no nine to five. You start seeing monsters at every quick mart in town---you wouldn't be the first hunter who's trying to escape something.”
Sam gets it. Claire's life has not been easy, nor has it been normal in any regard. It's hard for her to conceive the notion of regular life. He also can see that she's trying to hide in hunting from her pain about not being included in the family Alex and Jody have created. Hunting gives her an outlet. Claire, much like the Winchesters, are outsiders trying to become insiders. She just doesn't have the tools or the means to break through---feeling like she's shown up far too late to make a difference on the dynamics. School, jobs, and everyday life has no appeal for her then---mainly because Claire can see them as so transitory and isn't certain that her place here will last.
So, Sam reminds her gently of what she must choose between. He tells her, “Claire, I absolutely understand the need to hunt---believe me, I do---but the monsters are always going to be there on and on forever. But a chance at a family, home, school? That won't be.”
By the same token, it also allows Sam to connect with Alex. He understands her frustrations with hunting taking over everything. It's on his face as she shouts, “Can we stop talking about monsters and hunting? What about real life?” When Henry is fighting him, as he gets the upper hand, he makes the choice to not kill the vampire. Instead, he will let Alex decide his fate. In so doing, Sam is giving her a chance to exorcise some of her past and to undo some of its evil. He's giving her a choice in a situation where she's had so little and in so doing he's given Alex a gift.
He also understands her reasoning in the end when she expresses that she may decide to move on---to get away from the hunting world. Sam empathizes with her cold reality that she will always have to be ready to face another vampire as she did here---one that may be connected to her time with Mama's nest. It is that past that will track her forever. Sam doesn't have to say anything here. His quiet presence says it all. Here, too, he becomes a kindred spirit and no longer an outsider.
In the end, Sam and Dean had to witness the forging of this new family, the shedding of the labels prescribed to them, and the ones they define for themselves. They had to do this in order to be ready to do the same in their own fights. After all, Lucifer and Amara will only see them the way they want to see them.
Sam and Dean have two choices: let those enemies define them or to define themselves. The only way they can win is to choose the latter.