P.S. The Road So Far: Supernatural
"Let the Good Times Roll": I Sing of Dean Winchester Who Fell to Earth with Wings of Black and Eyes Now Blue
By P.S. Griffin (a.k.a. Castiel's Cat)
The Tragic Hero
"Like Achilles, the hero who forgot his heel, or like Icarus who, flying close to the sun, forgot that his wings were made of wax, we should be wary when triumphant ideas seem unassailable, for then there is all the more reason to predict their downfall."
"Faust: My Soul Be Damned for the World, Volume I" by E. A. Bucchianeri
The tragic flaw is a literary term typically defined as a character trait in the heroic protagonist leading to his downfall. The tragic flaw is usually a shortcoming in an otherwise morally grounded hero that causes him to make a fatal error—typically a lack of self-knowledge, a lack of sound judgment or hubris that inevitably leads to his downfall, death, or ruin. The term “tragic flaw,” or "hamartia"—literally "to err"—was introduced by Aristotle in his text Poetics, an analysis of the art of Greek tragedy: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Poetics_(Aristotle). I took a lot of classics in college and read almost every Greek tragedy at least once, as well as Aristotle's Poetics. I also took a lot of literature classes, film studies classes, and majored in art history. Supernatural was a master class in the humanities in the finale.
"Let the Good Times Roll" was Dean Winchester's tragic fall Greek-style, and they did their best to make Aristotle proud. In fact, judging by the copious use of masks throughout the season and the serious attempt to frame Dean's storyline the past two seasons as an epic, heroic, tragic fall storyline (as discussed in my article "Much Ado About Dean and Dean!Michael") I think both seasons are due for a serious rewatch with an eye out for Greek tragedy tropes. The Gods were with me tonight however because the entire episode was an out and proud homage to a classical Greek tragedy, which was appropriate and fitting because Dean Winchester—the moral compass of the Supernatural universe—fell from grace tonight. He fell to earth hard, and the Supernatural universe will suffer because of the certain fatal consequences of the stunningly bad decision he made. It has been several days since the episode aired and I am still experiencing what the Greeks refer to as "catharsis" and what we fans refer to as the One Perfect Tear.
All tragedies ideally adhere to the three Aristotelian unities of tragedy (https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Classical_unities), although anything not performed on a stage does so with a certain amount of latitude. These are the unity of time, space, and action. The unity of time means that the action should take place over the span of twenty-four hours, which the episode clearly did. Second, the tragedy should have a unity of space; in other words, the location should be more or less in one place. Everything stayed very close to home in Lebanon, Kansas, with very few sets. Third, there should be a unity of action with minimal subplots, and that too was adhered to rather well. They also kept the cast to a bare minimum and staged and shot the majority of the episode much like a play. The essentials of the tragedy were the core cast enjoying life at home until the archangel invasion changed their focus and then all of the action was focused on the archangel invasion until that threat was solved.
Greek theater was known to utilize certain staging conventions like masks. Although we saw masks earlier this season, Castiel's face at the end of the episode was the most conspicuous mask in tonight's performance, contorted into an expression of grief representative of the Greek mask of tragedy, which always appeared at the end of the play.
Other things include the use of a "mechane," or crane, for flying actors, typically used for the deus ex machina which were also conspicuous the episode. There was also a wheeled platform or "ekkyklêma" used to bring dead characters into view, which we saw in use and of course, Lucifer emphasized "so we're putting the dead on wheeled platforms to view them" part in text, which seemed like a strange bit of dialogue at the time. "Pinakes," or pictures, and "thyromata," or architectural pictorial stage dressing, such as what we saw in the church, were used to create vignettes. And even that weird Rowena-fondling-the-pestle scene in "Beat the Devil" can be explained as an homage to Greek theater since phallic props were used in satyr plays in honor of Dionysus, and Gabriel certainly fits the spiritual definition of a satyr on Supernatural.
There are other elements of Greek theater that appeared in the episode too. For instance, the chorus—whose role was to express unspoken thoughts and emotions—was very ably represented by Castiel at the exact moment of Dean's fall, when he tried to warn him to stop and fails, then goes mute and pantomimes his grief in the background; Castiel later beautifully contorts his face into the Greek mask of tragedy. Lucifer's admission of murder is also something that typically would have been spoken by the masked chorus, and the special effect lighting on his face was evocative of a mask. The deus ex machina was represented by the usually absent Chuck who was suggested by Dean's outstretched arms to the heavens as he fell, as if he was imploring the absent Chuck to save him. Also, Jack literally performed a deus ex machina save of Dean, Sam, and Castiel, when he answered Sam's prayer; Lucifer's resurrection miracle was another deus ex machina. "Melos," or melody, was sadly absent save for the "Carry On, Wayward Son” montage; how I miss the old days when we could count on classic rock and roll music to amplify the pathos, pain, and catharsis. "Opos," or spectacle, explains that unusual fight scene that was done on actual "mechane," or cranes, Greek style. Besides going for the "spectacular," there was the obvious need for Dean Winchester to fall from grace, and the most prominent and poignant shot in the entire sequence was Dean falling because it had extreme metaphorical significance. That was their money shot. I think all of the above demonstrates extreme intent on the part of Andrew Dabb and “Team Supernatural” to achieve ultimate Greek tragedy status. I believe that they did achieve this, despite a big time fumble with the "opos," or spectacle, part of the presentation, which should have been more significant, more dramatic, and less 4th century BC "oopla" even though Dean!Michael was magnificent and the art direction was quite beautiful. More on that later.
In Poetics Aristotle discusses several criteria that are essential for a good tragedy. The last two seasons and this episode in particular have done an outstanding job of achieving Aristotelian perfection.
"Mimesis" is the telling of stories that the viewer believes. It also means “imitation,” and there was a deliberate attempt to use repeat imagery to anchor the inevitability of Dean's tragic fall both in the finale and throughout seasons 12 and 13. I discuss the deliberate use of "mimesis" in seasons 12 and 13 in "Much Ado About Dean and Dean!Michael"; “mimesis” was obviously a storytelling device that was used very well for Dean's storyline and not a case of the writers having no ideas—a frequent fan complaint. As for the "mimesis" in this episode, there is deliberate mirroring between Jack and Dean's heroic character arcs however each storyline has a different outcome the difference being Jack was able to overcome his tragic flaws in time to avoid tragedy and Dean was not. There were also two obvious parallels to pivotal moments from Dean's season 9 Mark of Cain storyline. For instance the freeze frame shot at the very end was reminiscent of the final shot of "Do You Believe in Miracles?" when Dean's eyes opened and flashed black. This fits thematically since his tragic flaw led him to take on the Mark of Cain that had unforeseen negative consequences, triggering Sam's own heroic tragic fall in season 10 and subsequent redemption arc in season 11. Likewise, Dean's triumphant line of "We did it" before being subjugated by AU Michael is reminiscent of Dean's line, "We did good" in season 9 before dying from Metatron's attack. After Dean's death in season 9, he is reborn as a demonic version of himself. However, in contrast, the transformation into Dean!Michael through the agency of AU Michael has absolute dire consequences that were known to Dean. Those blue eyes are far uglier and far more ominous than his former black eyes. This was an epic tragic fall as in he really did not do good this time. Dean Winchester fell hard.
"Hamartia" is to err; it is the heroic tragic flaw and the reason for the tragic fall. Tragedy, according to Aristotle, involves the downfall of a hero, and this downfall happens when the hero makes that one fatal error, but it is not necessarily a grave moral failing or an inherent evil. Typically, the hero is not in balance in some way or exhibits poor judgement. Usually for the Greeks, the hero fails to follow the Delphic maxims (https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Delphic_maxims). In Poetics, Aristotle uses Sophocles’ "Oedipus Rex" as his case study. Oedipus's flaws were that he was out of balance and he did not know himself. Such little flaws with such big consequences. This guy kills his dad, unbeknownst to himself, and marries and bangs his mom, also unbeknownst to himself. She kills herself when she finds out, and he puts his eyes out with her dress pin.
Dean has the same two small flaws. He loves his family too much, but it is a love out of balance that causes him to believe his life has less value than theirs. It has caused him to value Sammy's life and Jack's life over the lives of everyone else in the world. AU Michael threatened the world. AU Michael came here to destroy humanity. Dean knows this. Dean did not care in that fatal moment . . . Obviously, Dean lacks the self-knowledge to recognize this about himself. These flaws are what has led to his downfall and this tragedy. Season 12 was the slow-motion run to this moment as Dean's desperation over Mary grew. In Season 13, Dean's desperation became a powder keg ready to blow. He calmed down once Sam was resurrected, Mary was found, and everyone made it home safely. Then the Apocalypse came to him again and Lucifer had Sammy once again and Jack too. Lucifer going full Aristotelian "peripeteia" was the fuse and everything was all Defcon 1. WTF says you all?!!! Read on . . .
"Anagnorisis" means recognition or discovery and refers to a character passing from ignorance to knowledge. It usually happens at the "peripeteia," or the moment of reversal. Obviously, this was Jack learning the truth about Lucifer and Lucifer changing the game completely by stealing Jack's grace, thereby completely reversing his fortune. The "Lusis" or denouement, means the untying of the plot threads which leads to the huge and surprising "Peripeteia," or game- changing moment in the fourth act. The "desis," or climax, means the tying of the loosened plot threads. I was certainly WTF over Lucifer's abrupt game-changing "peripeteia" in the fourth act.
Finally let's not forget about "mythos" which refers to plot. When dealing with tragedy, the plot must be the hero traveling from happiness to misery; and the audience is supposed to feel for the character's journey and experience emotional "catharsis"— or many One Perfect Tears. This episode took extraordinary care to show that Dean was very happy and then that happiness turned to big trouble and then to desperation and then to tragedy and then to horror. . . After which, I most certainly cried the tears of catharsis, and, like Castiel, my face was also contorted into the Greek mask of tragedy because we had witnessed the tragic fall of a great and noble hero. Y'all caught that right? The close-up of Castiel's beautiful face in agony at the end crying silently the tears of "catharsis" was a visual representation for the Greek mask of tragedy which is how all Greek tragedies end.
This was all classic Greek tragedy and Aristotle would have loved it, even if it had all of us bug-eyed and gasping. Did we not all experience the catharsis of the One Perfect Tear at the ending? Aristotle would have been impressed to be sure. He believed that all of these different elements had to be present in order for the tragedy to be a good work of art. He also thought that keeping the plays about family drama made the best tragedies. That dude knew a good story; he was much smarter than Metatron. Aristotle would have enjoyed "Let the Good Times Roll" because it did its job and gave the audience “catharsis.” It left me exactly like it left Castiel—a living mask of tragedy in perpetuity with One Perfect Tear. The episode had everything a good Greek tragedy is supposed to have according to Aristotle.
Much Ado About Dean and Family
In my previous article, "Much Ado About Dean and Dean!Michael," I proposed that there was a more than two season set-up leading to Dean!Michael (who we definitely would see in the finale), and introduced the concept that the writers were framing Dean's storyline using a classic heroic tragic fall with an eventual redemption arc. I also outlined Dean's tragic flaw as the self-sacrifice maneuver typically triggered by the loss of family. Dean is primed to sacrifice himself to save Sammy at any cost. These broad strokes all came to fruition. However, I am at heart a fangirl, a devoted Dean!Gal, and my Dean!Goggles can be pretty thick at times. I missed that the tragic flaw was really the excess of love of family that initially had lead him to self-sacrifice, for instance selling his soul for Sam's resurrection. If I had taken my Dean!Goggles off and carried my analyses further and perhaps refreshed my memory via Wikipedia on Poetics . . . I would have correctly identified his tragic flaws. Perhaps then I would have been less focused on his act of sacrifice and the outright suicides and more concerned with the impulsive, reckless need to save his family. Then I would have realized that although Dean continues to sacrifice himself to save his family, his degree of recklessness has increased; and by season 9 when he agrees to take the Mark of Cain, he was completely uninterested in the consequences of his actions. This is a red flag. Another red flag of course is Dean pulling a gun on Kaia to force her to help him save Mary in "The Bad Place." It shocked me at the time. I should have given this more credence. Instead, I had given Dean's tendency towards sacrifice too much emphasis, and while I recognized an increasing tendency towards recklessness all season, I equated it with self-harm and not with bad-world-hurting judgement when things suddenly and unexpectedly went south. In other words, I was not expecting the Aristotelian "peripeteia" maneuver. I was not expecting Dean to offer his beautiful Michael Sword to an evil archangel. Therefore, my analysis missed the mark in terms of how far my pretty Michael Sword would fall. I never saw AU Michael as an option.
The Greek concept of a hero is different from our own. They intrinsically saw their heroes as flawed individuals. Their greatest hero, Odysseus, who won the Trojan War by coming up with the Trojan horse maneuver and was honored with Achilles' armor, was renowned for being crafty and deceitful; he spent twenty years wandering during The Odyssey as punishment for vainly defying the gods. For the Greeks, their heroes were good, noble men who simply exhibited a flaw that threw their lives out of balance. Does this sound much like our currently angelic, dark-knightly hero, Dean? Dean's love of family is out of balance; it caused him to sacrifice himself in season 2 by selling his soul in order for Sam to be resurrected, which starts a chain of events leading up to Lucifer's release and Apocalypse 1.0. It causes him to sacrifice himself so many other times with alarming frequency and increasing recklessness in recent years. In the finale, Dean's love for Sam and Jack and his desperation to save them is so out of balance that he rushes recklessly into a deal to become the Michael Sword for AU Michael, who—having destroyed the majority of humanity on his world—has already announced his plans to save Dean's world by killing every sinner one by one. Yes, Dean's plan is to kill a dangerous Lucifer hopped up on Nephilim grace, and, yes, Dean makes a deal to remain in charge and for the possession to be temporary. Unfortunately, Dean does not have his usual plan B for when things go south. Dean always has a Plan B ("Scoobynatural")!!!! That is how reckless and desperate and tragically flawed it all was. So much catharsis. One Perfect Tear.
Dean's tragic flaw has everything to do with family. It was born out of the loss of his mother in that tragedy at age four and the attendant impulse to fiercely protect his family that was seared into him in the moment he cradled his infant brother in his arms. An impulse further reinforced and well . . . beaten into him by John and later turned into his life's work—the family business of saving people. Most of all, Dean will do anything to save his own family and anyone that has made it into his heart. Over the years, we have seen this impulse manifest into an obsession that evolved into the need to sacrifice himself recklessly and impulsively to save Sam, and often times the world, by killing something evil. Lately, Dean has become more reckless and the sacrifices have become more frequent. These are the roots of his tragic flaw.
Seasons 12 and 13 effectively used Mary to explore Dean's impulses and tragic flaw. Mary was resurrected by Amara as a gift to Dean. The writers use the literary device of "mimesis" to link Mary's storyline to Sam's in the first Apocalyptic mythos, succinctly alerting us both to Dean's mindset and the upcoming Apocalypse. I discuss both Dean's and Mary's storylines fully in "Much Ado about Dean and Dean!Michael." What is worth repeating is that, throughout season 12, Mary triggers the same protective impulses in Dean that Sam does because she is his family (the writing goes to extraordinary lengths to emphasize this). Then, at the end of season 12, Mary disappears through a rift with Lucifer into an Apocalypse world, and throughout season 13, Dean continues to visibly lose it, behaving increasingly more erratic and reckless until he gets her back.
From Blue Velvet to Behind Blue Eyes
We see Dean's increasingly reckless behavior in "Bring 'em Back Alive" and "Unfinished Business" along with his depression in "Beat the Devil" after his previous failure in which he is practically catatonic until the unfortunate vampire cave incident and Sam's death. For once we can say “thank goodness” for the deus ex machina meddling of Lucifer. Finding Mary and seeing the results of Sam's miraculous resurrection restored Dean's mental health enough that he was functioning again and Team Free Will was able to make it home with numerous refugees. And Lucifer is dead too! Let's party like it's 1999! And those were some rolling good times too. I had a major "Blue Velvet" pre-ear vibe from the beginning of "Let the Good Times Roll." There were blue skies and folks were off strolling, road tripping, nesting, falling in love, and hunting as one does when one is happy and having fun. Dean Winchester, our tragic hero, was very happy for a brief shining moment. They go on the best hunt of their lives—he and his brothers—and Dean dares to hope of a time in the sun without hunting because his family is whole and he is whole. This was the perfect Aristotelian way to start off a tragedy as we have learned.
Then there is blood and a body and a dead woman positioned on the ground much like Mary was on that ceiling long ago, "mimesis" again, because this is a Greek tragedy and a family curse and Dean is the tragic hero whose story is being told and the origin of his tragic flaw starts with mother Mary. Dean's need to protect his people was also beautifully referenced in his bedside chat with Jack; we know he too has nightmares about those he cannot save and our hearts already ache for the coming nightmares over those killed by his hands because he gave AU Michael his body. The tragedy quickly unfolds, centering on family, using the basics of a good Greek tragedy to make Aristotle proud. At first, the death of fearless vampire cave girl leads Jack to accidently harm an innocent boy in anger which causes him to run away in shame and makes him susceptible to his father Lucifer's lies. He asks Lucifer for a deus ex machina resurrection that Lucifer cannot refuse; although he tries to tell Jack that she might come back wrong to dissuade him. Afterwards, Jack leaves with Lucifer, as promised. Meanwhile, Dean, Sam, and Castiel have escaped AU Michael's first attack as a result of Dean's ingenuity. They return to the bunker and learn of Lucifer's return and Jack's departure. Sam interrogates the resurrected girl, who saw the glowing red eyes of her killer before dying. AU Michael breaks into the bunker and tries to strangle the life out of Dean whilst giving an evil monologue about his plans to kill humanity one by one. Sam prays to Jack who arrives as a deus ex machina to stop AU Michael from hurting his family. He channels the love that he inherited from Kelly and learned from the Winchesters, rather than Lucifer's hate, to defeat AU Michael. He is about to leave with Lucifer when all is revealed to him in the "anagnorisis" scene, including Lucifer's deal with AU Michael and the fact that Lucifer killed fearless vampire cave girl. Jack denies Lucifer and Lucifer quickly steals his grace; Lucifer evil monologues that he only really wanted Jack’s power and grabs Jack in the "peripeteia" scene. Sam and Cas jump in to save Jack. Lucifer quickly teleports out with Jack and Sam. Ruh Roh. This fourth act had three major reversals of fortune and a very successful "lusis," untying every plotline we had going in.
After the "lusis," or denouement, comes the "desis," or climax. AND THEN LUCIFER TAKES SAMMY (and Jack). So, Dean is thoroughly primed to act. We know he has the "hamartia," his tragic flaw about saving family. I was prepared for a self-sacrifice with a side of “Ruh Roh.” I was not prepared for Dean not to care about anything but SAVING SAM (and Jack). He prioritized saving Sammy over the safety of the world. That is a big fatal error. That is a big tragic fall. That is a resounding thud. One Perfect Tear. I mourn and Castiel mourns. We are the mask of tragedy. We are the chorus.
Dean is immediately in desperate and reckless MUST SAVE SAMMY (and Jack) NOW mode. Castiel sees it and nothing he can say will stop Dean. AU Michael sees it too and says what he needs to in order to have want he wants. But AU Michael is not lying per se; Lucifer is certainly powerful with the Nephilim grace and he’s dangerous . . . for now. It is unclear what effect that grace would have on Lucifer long-term. Borrowed grace provides a temporary power boost at best, per previous canon, and if Castiel had been able to talk to Dean or if Dean had been able to listen this could have been explained. Unfortunately, Dean is in desperate and reckless MUST SAVE SAMMY (and Jack) NOW mode. The scene is staged like a mirror to the scene of Castiel's failed attempts to intervene between Lucifer's seduction of Jack in "Exodus," and Misha plays his role exactly the same. He realizes all is lost and his words fall on deaf ears because the seducer knows exactly how to play their prey.
Unfortunately, as in any tragedy with a tragic hero there comes a fall. Sammy is taken by Lucifer and it all goes sideways. Dean's tragic flaw manifests in its full fatal glory, and he falls with a resounding thud, sadly without the accompanying rock music . . . It's a Greek tragedy and a modern tragedy and definitely a Supernatural tragedy. We literally saw Dean Winchester fall to earth in the literary sense, and afterwards there will be a terrible reckoning for his momentary and desperate lack of judgement. Dean made a reckless, impulsive decision with the end goal of saving Sammy (and Jack) and ending Lucifer forever, which is the ultimate “Save Sammy” gesture in my opinion. As with most of Dean's big sacrifices, he did not pay enough attention to the risks. It was so far beyond the usual “Ruh Roh” in which Dean does a reckless sacrifice and there are consequences of which he was not aware. Castiel hanging his head in despair in the background as the proverbial chorus really sums it up. Castiel and I know there will be horrible consequences. Dean should know this too but his fatal flaw has clouded his judgement. MUST SAVE SAMMY NOW (and Jack)!!!
This is the full expression of Dean's tragic flaw. He did not sacrifice himself to save Sam (and Jack). He sacrificed the world. The world will pay the price—one human life at a time. If you cheered when you were watching, I think you missed the point. Your face should have looked like the face of Castiel's and mine . . . like the the Greek mask of tragedy. Fandom should be in collective catharsis. Dean erred. Dean fell. And because of him, people will die.
Dean will pay a high price for his decision too, of course. He will suffer as each life is vanquished by his hands, and he will count each and every soul that goes to heaven knowing that their death is on him. For the first time in the show's history he will be right. This man has always taken the responsibility for every loss on his shoulders. This time it is his responsibility. I feel pity and sadness for Dean Winchester, which is the exact thing Aristotle thought I should feel after a good Greek tragedy: CATHARSIS! As I write this, my face is still twisted with anguish like Castiel's. One Perfect Tear.
The entrance of Dean!Michael with Dean in control was magnificent, and there were aspects of the battle between Dean!Michael and Lucifer that were extraordinary in concept and execution. Overall, the "opos" (spectacle) portion of our very special Supernatural Greek tragedy seemed less than spectacular. The entire Dean!Michael versus Lucifer sequence felt extremely rushed and chaotic, almost as if something went wrong during production. I imagine that the "mechane" crane shots, so important both conceptually and thematically given the fact that Dean Winchester is literally and figuratively falling within a Greek tragedy, were more difficult to accomplish than anticipated. At the least, they should have given it a little more time and perhaps slowed down the images. The individual shots were beautiful and iconographically important. I loved the attempt to shoot Dean!Michael and Lucifer as if we were seeing images from a majestic classical sculptural frieze that had come to life and been frozen, only to come to life in a new pose again and again . . . It would have been improved I think by slowing it down. Finally, there is the missing tragic element of "melos," which was in itself a tragedy, pardon my Greek, but WTF! This sequence needed classic rock to tie it together like a really good rug ties a room together.
Since this aired I have thought a lot about Dean and his tragic flaw. I belatedly realized that Dean shares his twin flaws with another great Greek hero, Oedipus. No, I am not talking about matricide, you Mary haters, and Jocasta commits suicide; it is Orestes who commits matricide by killing Clytemnestra, which is an entirely differently tragedy—a cycle of plays really about another cursed family. I speak of course of two of the Delphic Maxims: Nothing in Excess and Know Thyself. In essence, these are Dean's two tragic flaws. Like Oedipus, he does not know himself and he is out of balance or exhibits an excess of a specific quality or behavior. Now Oedipus had anger management issues; he murdered his father over a minor road rage squabble and was unaware of his true parentage.
For Dean these character traits, considered tragic flaws in the literary tradition, manifest differently. His love of family is to excess. He loves them to the point that he willingly kills himself, which is extreme. And now he loves his family to the point that he threatens a young girl at gunpoint and puts the world at risk, both of which are . . . ummm . . . not heroic. Likewise, Dean does not know himself because he lacks the insight to recognize that he is doing these reckless, extreme things even when other characters have expressed shock and surprise by his actions and have tried to talk to him on multiple occasions this very season.
It has been a very Supernatural Greek tragedy with a two season long build up—a race to the finish line and a humdinger of a classic Greek tragedy performance for the finale, complete with a brutal and gut-wrenching heroic tragic fall and catharsis up the wazoo. One Perfect Tear to be sure. I am going to need a lot of "retsina”, “ouzo," and "metaxa" to erase the Greek mask of tragedy from my face. Truly One Perfect Tear.
I sing to thee of golden-eyed Dean Winchester who fell from grace from on high, having stabbed the devil Lucifer in the heart with a golden spiraled blade; and then, like Icarus, he came crashing down after having reached out to his absent and unseen maker for deliverance one last time before hitting the ground with wings of black and eyes now blue. Alas, alack we cry and rend our garments in the dawn's rosy-fingered light as tears wet our cheeks like spring rain. Mourning alone as his screams tear open the heavens, the angel Castiel cries whilst his visage is transformed by grief and despair for the very first time. All is lost now for it is the End of Days and a callous and malicious monster walks the earth in his stead enjoying a brave new world, a beautiful new suit, and the stain of blood on his hands.
"I Sing of Dean Winchester Who Fell to Earth with Wings of Black and Eyes Now Blue" by Castiel's Cat
Assorted Musings . . .
Dean!!!! NOOOO!!!! One Perfect Tear!!! You have work to do! Dean's love of family is in excess and it drives him to excess, and he does not understand himself well enough to stop the cycle of self-sacrifice that has increasingly lead to more and more dire world-threatening repercussions. This will change after season 14's Michael!Dean carnage and destruction. Dean will suffer. He will change. He will eventually be redeemed. Most of all, he will carry on as a wayward son. Be prepared for things to get ugly for him as he confronts the horrific ramifications of a choice he made with eyes wide open. Then comes the hard work for Dean. Dealing with the deaths that he caused. Changing himself. Becoming balanced. Knowing himself. Atoning for his mistake and the harm it caused and finally seeking redemption. Of course, Jensen Ackles was just sublime. My God, his performance the last two seasons was unbelievable.
What might have Dean done? He could have listened to Castiel, and together they could have formulated a plan after restraining AU Michael using the cuffs in the Bunker and flaming holy oil. Michael was already weakened, so this was feasible.
And they could have bled AU Michael’s grace out completely. One archangel down . . . Then Dean and Castiel could have discussed options which probably would have led them to Cage Michael, who so far was following Chuck's plan, and has dealt with Dean fairly in the past and never engaged in wanton slaughter, fratricide, or evil monologues. Dean could have made a deal with Cage Michael to kill Lucifer and resurrect Sam and Jack, if necessary. Dean!Michael could double up on Michael grace, fix the Michael lance, kill AU Michael, and go after Lucifer. All Dean had to do was inject himself and talk to Billie, or he could just have summoned her too. She needs the world to go round. There is no longer the need to spend a day cooking TexMex ("Brother's Keeper").
Usually, they plan out these world-saving Hail Mary's. Dean's save-family-moves are never planned. They are reckless and impulsive. It is one thing to risk oneself again and again for family because their lives mean everything and yours means nothing in comparison. It is something else entirely when the desperate impulse to save your brother causes you to recklessly give a homicidal maniac his greatest weapon: the Michael Sword. Yes Dean just ended Lucifer forever . . . we hope, but he did if all for Sam and for Jack . . . for family. The mirror for this was "Advanced Thanotology." Racing to inject the poison without thinking was the definition of recklessness. He did not care about any other consequences other than saving Sam. Of course then the only risk was to himself.
And was Lucifer really such a threat?
Lucifer has been mucking around topside for two and a half seasons doing almost nothing. This is an archangel without ambition. He has no life goals and short-term anger management issues. In contrast, AU Michael is forever and always a go-getter—an archangel with ambition and an archangel who destroyed humanity on his world and came here to do the same thing one soul at a time. He told this to Dean's face as he was squeezing the life out of him. And Dean just handed him his perfect weapon—his body, the Michael Sword—because it was the best option to save Sammy (and Jack) and that was all Dean was interested in.
Dean was ripe for seduction and AU Michael saw it. I had wondered why Jack and Dean were mirrored all season long and the reasons became clear in this episode. The parallels between Castiel trying to prevent Lucifer’s seduction of Jack in “Exodus” and Castiel trying to prevent AU Michael’s seduction of Dean in ”Let the Good Times Roll” were striking with Castiel's body language and mounting and palpable despair anchoring both scenes. It is also worth noting that Jack was bred by Lucifer for his power in exactly the same way Dean was bred by our version of Michael for his. Jack learned the truth before it was too late and therefore adverted tragedy. Dean was willingly seduced. He went in with eyes wide open because it did not matter to him that he was enabling a worse monster than Lucifer; he gives Michael the Michael Sword because he was desperate to save Sam (and Jack) and ending Lucifer immediately was the only way to do that.
Dean!Michael!Michael or is it Michael!Michael!Dean? Or Michael!Dean!Michael? Cage Michael in his cage quietly knitting should have been awakened by AU Michael's hijinks at the least, and he probably went postal when his Michael Sword went into use. If he comes onto the board my guess is that he will contact Dean directly. We know that the Cage was damaged enough by the Darkness for him to make a mental connection. Team Free Will, with Rowena's help, may need to spring him. My guess is that he fights within Dean to loosen the other Michael's hold on him. Nobody on Team Free Will will want to hurt Dean directly. I was also struck by the fact that AU Michael's first move was to take out Dean, this world's Michael's Sword. This tells us that Cage Michael plus Dean will be AU Michael's most formidable foe.
Michael!Dean . . . What do you do with a problem like Michael!Dean? He is all alone without his army, for now. Is he going to zap around and get some fruit and use his own grace to bring them over? Is he truly going to start murdering people solo to save their souls one at a time as he stated? Wasn't that Preacher Caleb's storyline from Buffy season 7? He does have pretty fly sartorial style. Apparently, the "nice suit" is a play on Dean Winchester—the Michael Sword—being such a "nice suit." Oh, and he totally seduced Dean in the Bunker. The scene between Dean AU Michael and Castiel was a mirror for the scene between Jack, Lucifer, and Castiel in "Exodus." In both scenes, Castiel is unable to use the truth to convince the heroic protagonist to take the right path. Happily, Jack learns the truth before Lucifer can use him for evil purposes. Dean is not so lucky.
I find myself wobbly on the canon of vessel possession etiquette. My recollection of the subject indicates that the vessel can revoke permission at any time. However, angels do a work-around by interfering with the conscious decision-making process of the vessel. So, my guess is that AU Michael gave Dean a mental time-out at best or pulled a "Raphael" on him at worst, in which case Dean may need some serious healing. The very worst-case scenario is that Dean is dead, possibly explaining Billie's cryptic "See you later, Dean" in "Funeralia.”
Cage Michael . . . So what about Crazy Cage Michael? Is he getting an MFA in crafts and life skills? Eventually, they have to crack him out to save heaven. If AU Michael really hurt or killed Dean, Cage Michael may be needed to heal him. As mentioned previously I suspect Cage Michael plus Dean, his Michael Sword, is the number one threat to AU Michael, which is why AU Michael tried to take him out first. Therefore, the best solution is for Cage Michael is to free Dean and for the pair defeat the AU usurper.
Also, AU Michael has stolen Cage Michael’s best suit, the one he never got a chance to wear. AU Michael also killed two of his brothers. There might be some serious territory issues. Finally, I still maintain that Sam's resurrection by Lucifer in "Beat the Devil" and the bizarro Inglorious Bastards sequence in "Exodus" had to be foreshadowing for Cage Michael resurrecting Dean and defeating AU Michael at some point. Yes . . . the former clearly pushed Dean's “kill Lucifer to protect Sammy” dials all the way to eleven, which factored into his very bad no good decision to be the Michael Sword for AU Michael to kill Lucifer in order to protect Sammy. The latter is foreshadowing because everything about that was just too weird otherwise . . . especially Castiel versus Evil Nazi Castiel. I don't see them having Sam suit up to fight Dean at this point unless they know Dean is dead and AU Michael is possessing an empty body. Likewise Cas . . . Likewise Jack . . . Bottom line, it seems to me that Cage Michael has to come out to play next season and he seems like the best bet to fix heaven.
Castiel . . . oh Lord, was the profound bond in full view tonight. His performance as tragedy at the end was beautiful, as was his performance as the comrade in arms turned into the chorus desperately trying to stop Dean from making his fatal mistake. And then he turns in silhouette, silently mourning for all that is lost, when he realizes that Dean has made up his mind. It was such a beautiful performance . . . so classical. The emotion and profound grief portrayed on Castiel's face in that final framing shot was powerful and transcendent. Have we ever seen this much emotion from Castiel before? No. The framing shot emphasized his face and his grief. Both were significant. Believe me when I tell you that we were all supposed to be feeling what Castiel felt because we just watched a classic Greek tragedy unfold; we saw the hero make a fatal error of judgement. It was heartbreaking to see, especially for us, because it was Dean Winchester, whom we have seen for thirteen years saving people and his family; Dean has never put an innocent person at risk until this season. We were all supposed to be wearing the Greek mask of tragedy and feeling catharsis and One Perfect Tear. If you didn't well . . . according to "Fan Fiction" that is okay too; however, you have missed out on a brilliant and audacious two years of epic storytelling by Andrew Dabb and Team Supernatural.
The only thing missing from Castiel's performance was for him to rend his clothes and cry unto the heavens, "Alas, alack all is lost! Oh, curly-haired Chuck, can you not show pity on strong-armed Dean and intervene before it is too late?" And when Dean fell, he stretched out his arm like the Sistine's Adam to his Creator to save him, and of course, as usual, Dean was left on his own to fall, epically and tragically . . . literally and figuratively too. All beautifully illustrated in the one perfectly shot sequence from the unspectacular spectacle or "opos." Then again for "mimesis" and for emphasis . . . Castiel's face is transformed into the mask of tragedy that every fan should be sharing, along with his tears, because we just witnessed a @#$ Greek tragedy and Dean Winchester fell harder than Icarus. Misha Collins you rock!
Jack was a mirror for Dean all season, and I loved both their bedroom chat in the finale, establishing their similar outlook on the responsibility of protecting family and their mutual nonchalance when Dean shot Jack because he was "acting psycho"—something Dean had promised to do all season. Jack literally was a character who was out of balance and did not know himself. He, too, completed his heroic journey—albeit more successfully than Dean—because in the end, although Jack stumbled he did not fall. He initially allowed his anger to take hold and he followed his father Lucifer's dark legacy—a path that he quickly learned was wrong. He then chose the path of love and family. The suicide scene was heartbreaking, and I adored that he told Sam that he loved him before stabbing himself. Jack has so much of Dean, Sam, and Cas in him—his three fathers—and he has taken the best from each of them. I was verklempt at many of Jack's moments. Alexander Calvert was outstanding. One Perfect Tear.
I thought Lucifer stole every drop of grace because he was burning that bridge to the ground and Jack is too powerful to keep around all of the time with his grace intact; however, Jack also gave off grace when he stabbed himself. Furthermore, Jack is a threat to AU Michael if he has residual grace and can regenerate. Therefore, I am confused as to why Michael!Dean didn't kill him when he took control from Dean? Surely, he saw the unhealed wound and understood what that meant. So either he was too weak to attempt killing Jack or Dean would not allow which suggests he is in there fighting. Otherwise the evidence seems contradictory. Also, since Jack at full power can deus ex machina the three big mytharc storylines all by himself: save Dean, stop AU Michael, and fix heaven, I hope he has no grace left or takes forever to recharge because Team Free Will needs to work together to solve these mytharc kerfuffles.
Ding Dong Lucifer is dead! The big bad Lucifer! The wicked Lucifer! Dean!Michael killed Lucifer with an amazing assist from Sam and it was beautiful. Please tell me that the sparkly residue on Lucifer's dead blackened wings is just Nephilim grace detritus and nothing more because I do not want him to resurrect, especially after gold eyed, strong armed, noble browed Dean Winchester fell from grace to make sure he would never harm his family again.
Mark Pellegrino hit new heights portraying Lucifer at his lowest. He is a bottom feeder, as evident when he was forced to tell the truth about murdering fearless vampire cave girl. The moment Lucifer turned and showed Jack his true nature was absolute horror. It was obvious all along that the dad thing was an act conceived to get access to Jack's power. Lucifer literally conceived him for the Nephilim power and then he tried to seduce Jack for access to it. When that failed, he just took it without a thought. It should be noted that this is a dark mirror of what happened between AU Michael and Dean. Dean was bred to be Michael's Sword. AU Michael seduced him when he saw the opportunity. Dean was desperate enough to be seduced and handed his body and the power of the Michael Sword over to the patently evil archangel. I wa so over Lucifer however Mark Pellegrino did mine new depths of evil . . . so bravo!
Sam had a supporting role in the finale, however it was extremely important. He saved Dean by praying to Jack. He had the important intel that Lucifer had killed fearless vampire girl and he threw the archangel blade to Dean, saving his life again and enabling Dean!Michael to stab Lucifer with it in a final satisfying killing thrust. Sam's joy at seeing Dean in control as Dean!Michael and Dean victorious was infectious and too short-lived. It was an excellent performance by Jared Padalecki. Obviously, Sam will head an expanded Team Free Will and its efforts to save Dean and stop Dean!Michael.
Speculator Hits and Misses
I had speculated that Lucifer was interested in Jack for his power and might steal it; however, I had not spun that out in any way and I certainly had not foreseen it figuring in as a fourth act game changer in the finale that would drive Dean's decision-making, triggering the big sacrifice, fatal flaw modus operandi. They went all-in with the standard, reckless “Save Sammy At All Costs, No Matter What the Risks” maneuver for the big win with guaranteed long-term “Ruh Roh” costs. Therein lies the tragic fall, and therein lies the reason why I never ever considered that Dean would be offering his beautiful Michael Sword body to AU Michael. “Save Sammy” trumps all rhyme or reason. It is the prime trigger number one. The iconic image from "The Pilot" of a little boy cradling his infant brother, a protective instinct later beaten into him by his father that causes him to think that his life is worthless when he hits the proverbial low point mentally and when he is triggered by loss of family. We have seen this time and time again: the first time in the season 2 finale when he sold his soul, and most recently in "Advanced Thanotology" when he committed suicide to save Sam from a haunted house. His impulse is getting out of control, as is his desperation and reasoning. Ergo he makes the worst decision that he has ever made in order to save Sammy. No reasonable person would ever trust AU Michael. Cas knows this and functions as the proverbial Greek choir stating the obvious "DON'T DO IT" to our tragic, very flawed hero. I too was in the choir screaming, “Dean NO!!! DO NOT DO THIS!!!”
My speculation regarding this being a classic heroic tragic fall because of a tragic flaw storyline for Dean was correct. We have just witnessed Dean's tragic flaw evoke a tragic fall and there will be horrible consequences from his error of judgement next season. I also was correct about Dean!Michael, the family connection, the loss of family being the prime motivation, and Dean being driven by the need to save family to make a self-sacrifice that would drive the mytharc.
Dean killing Lucifer was an obvious conclusion, clearly foreshadowed by Dean screaming, "JUST. KILL. HIM. NOW!!!” ("Exodus"). Jack losing his power was also obvious, and Lucifer stealing it was one posited suggestion. Likewise, Jack would clearly see his father's true nature for himself. What a brutal lesson. I was wrong about Jack being unable to master his emotions. He took control. He mastered a balance and he came to know himself. He did stumble on his heroic path but he did not fall. Good lad, Jack.
All of Dean's mental health issues revolved around Mary's absence and her being in danger. Once everyone was home safe and sound, Dean became stable. Dean needs his family with him and he deconstructs without them. The finale emphasized this. I was right that family loss fueled by an attendant mental health decline fueled his tragic flaw and would lead to his tragic fall. I mistook his flaw for the suicide impulse rather than the fact he loved his family to excess leading to increasingly reckless decision-making. Therefore, I focused too much on the suicide and less on the reckless decision-making. And . . .
Doh! I picked the wrong Michael. I never saw Dean choosing AU Michael, who is objectively worse than Lucifer, and therefore, I assumed Dean!Michael would vanquish the AU doppelganger and be the problem archangel for season 14. I also did not foresee Samsel in distress again, which was perhaps shortsighted of me. Always consider Samsel in distress. And I never, never, never saw Dean making that deal. Not AU Michael. NOPE. Although we all know that the “SAVE SAMMY!!!” impulse does make Dean desperate, impulsive, reckless, and crazy.
Yes, it was a bad situation; however, Dean did not think. Dean went into “Save Sammy” mode. He did not listen to Cas. And Dean knew exactly who he was giving the Michael Sword to because he had seen the AU Apocalypse, and AU Michael had already told him his plans for this world. Dean Winchester did not care in that moment of reckless desperation because all he cared about was saving Sammy.
This was Dean Winchester's tragic fall. The tragic circumstances tell us this. The close-up of Castiel's very sad tragedy mask face tells us this. The long shot of Dean's fall tells us this. This was Dean Winchester's tragic fall. An epic instance of bad judgement and now people will die because of it and it will all be his responsibility. My heart hurts for him. I was stunned and I was horrified even as I understood it because it was set up beautifully over the last two seasons. My face looked exactly like Castiel's face deformed by anguish and tears in that mask of Greek tragedy . . . in other words catharsis or One Perfect Tear.
Call me Cassandra, Castiel's Cat, or the Shamalama Dabb Whisperer because this is the story that they wrote and are writing, and they have summarized it in a series of poignant vignettes that more than make up for the truncated spectacle of that sadly brief fight scene. No, I am not talking about the cheesiest freeze frame in history, although I do appreciate the Demonic Dean homage ("Do You Believe In Miracles"). I am speaking of the visual poetry that speaks volumes in tragic shorthand: Dean's face when he has lost Sammy again to Lucifer. AU Michael's face as he sees his opening and starts the seduction. The horror on Castiel's face when he realizes it is too late and there is nothing he can say to stop it, but he valiantly tries anyway. Dean's face when he has made up his mind and offers his body—the powerful Michael Sword—to AU Michael. AU Michael's face when he knows he has his perfect weapon. Castiel's abject face when he knows all is lost. Human Dean!Michael with wings full of righteous fury. Human Dean!Michael injured in battle being cradled by Lucifer as he prepares to kill him. Sam throwing his brother the knife. Human Dean!Michael having the strength to stab Lucifer in the heart. The slow motion emphasis on human Dean!Michael falling and reaching upward toward heaven as if asking the absent Chuck to save him. Human Dean!Michael clearly injured, yet triumphant and joyous. Sam and Jack joyous. Human Dean!Michael saying “We did it!” with such obvious transient joy. The transformation from Dean!Michael to Michael!Dean—so abrupt and monstrous. Angelic Michael!Dean thanking Dean for the suit with that cold contemptuous face. Castiel's face contorted by grief and anguish conveying the catharsis we all should be feeling. Michael!Dean walking loose on the world because of Dean Winchester's epic error of judgement and his big-ass tragic fall.
If you read "Much Ado about Dean and Dean!Michael" then you know I was extremely impressed with the heroic tragic journey storyline that they had introduced for Dean over two seasons that drew heavily on the show's mytharc using the Aristotelian tragic device of mimesis and the repetition of storylines. Storylines about families, Dean's tragic family history, the Supernatural apocalypse mythos and Dean's reckless sacrificial impulses to save his family at all costs were woven together brilliantly, leading up to a finale that was both expected and unexpected. I knew Dean was being framed as a tragic hero and I saw the parallels to Greek tragedy. I had not realized that Andrew Dabb and Team Supernatural were audacious, creative, and brilliant enough to do the finale as a literal Greek tragedy. For me, it worked. "Let the Good Times Roll" was an actual very Supernatural Greek tragedy. Dean Winchester fell harder than Icarus. Yes this was a bona fide Greek tragedy and Dean was a true tragic hero in every sense. He went totally Icarus or Ajax or Orestes on the world. My poor gold eyed, strong armed, noble browed warrior fall hard and it will suck because this time it is all on him. And poor blue eyed Castiel who witnessed the moment of Dean's fall and clearly understood the tragedy that befell Dean, and them all really as a result of Dean's fatal error, expressed his grief appropriately because his face was the epitome of "catharsis" which was exactly what Aristotle believed we should be feeling after a good Greek tragedy. I didn't need some guy from the chorus parading around in a Mask to tell me to feel that way either because the writing took me there. I looked exactly like Castiel and I felt the same pity, grief, and despair for poor Dean Winchester who tragically made a terrible mistake and is now a tragic hero who has fallen crashing to the ground. Dean Winchester fell like Icarus, y'all. This is so very bad. For me, they have made a serious attempt to take Dean's storyline and elevate it to Greek tragedy and they succeeded. I am still having catharsis and One Perfect Tear for golden-eyed, strong-armed pretty-faced Dean Winchester, the fallen Michael Sword with black wings and eyes now blue. So, Andrew Dabb, I guess I remain your one true fan. Outstanding work by the way.
Well, in honor of the olden days when Supernatural could afford actual rock music, I am closing this review with "Behind Blue Eyes," which is a rather perfect song for right about now.
"Behind Blue Eyes"
No one knows what it's like
To be the bad man,
To be the sad man,
Behind blue eyes.
And no one knows what it's like
To be hated,
To be fated,
To telling only lies.
But my dreams
They aren't as empty
As my conscience seems to be.
I have hours, only lonely
My love is vengeance
That's never free.
No one knows what it's like
To feel these feelings
Like I do,
And I blame you.
No one bites back as hard
On their anger.
None of my pain and woe
Can show through.
But my dreams
They aren't as empty
As my conscience seems to be.
I have hours, only lonely
My love is vengeance
That's never free.
When my fist clenches, crack it open
Before I use it and lose my cool.
When I smile, tell me some bad news
Before I laugh and act like a fool.
And if I swallow anything evil
Put your finger down my throat.
And if I shiver, please give me a blanket
Keep me warm, let me wear your coat.
No one knows what it's like
To be the bad man,
To be the sad man,
Behind blue eyes.