The Morning After
“Drag Me Away (From You)”, Meghan Fitzmartin’s debut solo Supernatural script, was a classic monster of the week hunt. She acknowledged it as such (“Going back to the CLASSICS”) during her live tweet of both the East and West coast air times. It was fun to watch her share her excitement and pride over seeing her writing come to life on television. I’m happy she was given this opportunity before the series ended.
Indeed, as a “classic” episode, “Drag Me Away (From You)” was a nostalgic call back to the early years of Sam and Dean’s hunts, on many levels. Visually, fans were treated to one more (last?) motel room with the most extraordinary décor imaginable! This one went way over the top by adding a geometric carpet to “complement” the 1960’s patterned wallpaper and color scheme. Even the desktop phone was bright orange! Musically, the boys’ “family theme” played as a poignant backdrop to Sam unpacking the strained conflicts of his life - a college guide and a Ziploc bag of toiletries alongside a gun and a knife.
The story was also a literal flashback to the early days. Teenager Dean was still babysitting his little brother, who hadn’t yet been allowed to participate in his first hunt, so they were dropped off at a motel while dad sped away solo to take care of business. Dean established more of their early timeline by teasing that Sam was still being visited by his imaginary friend, who we learned in 11.08 (“Just My Imagination”) is the irreplaceable zanna Sully. Dean called Bobby for guidance when he couldn’t reach his dad, and Sam was still clinging to the hope of one day being normal and going to college, an ambition he shared with a sympathetic teacher in 4.13 “After School Special”.
Meghan took meticulous care to fit this flashback hunt of 1993 accurately within the previously established timeline of the boys’ lives, a detail she tweeted was quite important to her. From pop culture references of KITT (Knight Rider) to the monster-possessed game of Boggle (I still have it in my game cabinet!), to the candy in the vending machine, viewers were taken back to simpler times before Sam and Dean had the weight of the universe on their shoulders. Their business was simply saving people and hunting things, something they were still learning to do. Even the formula of the episode was boy meets girl, boy saves girl (and her brother), boy drives away into the sunset, proud of a job well done.
Truth and Lies
Befitting their ages, we were reminded that Sam and Dean were also still developing emotionally. Dean lied to both Sammy and Caitlin to prolong their innocence and protect them from the horrors of the monster they encountered. He himself was unprepared to see mass murder, and was thus unable to process finding dead children discarded like garbage in an abandoned warehouse. He was also unwilling to admit fear, instead donning a macho attitude that is normal for teenage boys who are trying to impress girls.
Sadly, the climax of the brothers’ interactions in the present day was Sam thinking that little had changed in the 25 years they’ve worked side by side. Dean was still lying to Sam, “sitting on” the horrible truth that Cas had told Dean before this hunt began. Dean only came clean when he was guilted into telling the truth by Caitlin’s reminder that maturity usually equals truthfulness.
We all know that Dean holds in the most painful truths, out of an overwhelming sense of responsibility. The opening song also offered insight into how much Dean tries to spare other people from pain:
If I didn’t care, more than words can say?
If I didn’t care, would I feel this way?
But it’s unclear from the explanation Dean gave about holding back the truth if this time he was trying to spare Sam from anguish – from the truth of knowing Jack had to die. Instead, it sounded more like Dean expected that Sam wouldn't agree with the plan, so Dean was protecting himself from the inevitable blowup with Sam, and the unwinnable fight about executing the only plan they had.
Sam: So you’ve been sitting on this? What the hell, Dean? I thought we were past stuff like this. I can’t believe you! I mean how can you keep me in the dark about something so huge?
Dean: Because I knew you couldn’t handle it! You didn’t trust Billie’s plan, and then when we found out about Amara, you started second guessing. You raised these “ethical” questions!
Sam: And I shouldn’t? Jack’s gonna kill himself and I’m supposed to just shut up about it??
Dean: This is the way we end Chuck! This is the only way we’ll ever be free! So, I’m sorry Sam, you don’t get a choice. We don’t get a choice!
Sam: Oh, we.
Dean is enraged by Chuck’s manipulation, now that he’s learned he doesn’t have the power to make his own decisions, yet Dean did almost the exact same thing to Sam. Instead of telling Sam what they were dealing with, Dean felt it was his responsibility to choose for both of them. He didn’t want to deal with the complications of Sam’s expected opposition to the suicide plan, so he denied Sam’s free will to choose his path for himself.
Predictably, Sam was livid. I would be too. Sam understood and accepted Dean’s protection and lie from years before, stating,
Catilin: That’s what you were hiding from me.
Sam: Dean, why didn’t you ever tell me this?
Dean: Because I had never seen anything like that before…. I had nightmares about that for the longest time. I’m sorry. I should’ve told you.
Sam: No, man, it’s okay. I mean you were just a kid. We were both just kids, and hell, we used to keep a lot of secrets from each other.
But Sam feels he has earned the right to make his own choices now. He is not a child anymore.
I agree completely with Sam’s outrage. Dean shouldn’t have lied. The brothers, and the story, have moved far beyond this artificially manufactured family drama. This is an old trope that the show has spent seasons moving past, so please honor where we are now by respecting the progress that has been made along the way! I don’t blame Meghan for this plot device. I doubt she has the authority to decide the direction of the bigger story. I’m just frustrated that this is how the boys are going to spend their last hours on earth, and our last hours with the show.
As much as Dean’s lying again aggravated me, it was secondary to another relationship issue I thought the show had left behind long ago.
Billie: I visited Jack in your bunker. Gave him his final orders; the last step of his transformation. [Ominous, much?]
Dean: Yeah, filled him up with your cosmic TNT so he can die. How’d you talk the kid into that one?
Billie: I told him the truth….
Billie: So, this is on you, Dean.
Dean: One messenger of God’s destruction right here.
Billie: And you need to tell me now. Do we have a problem?
Billie: and your brother?
Dean: He’ll get there.
Billie: He doesn’t know. I don’t know why you’ve been hiding this from your brother but I don’t like loose ends, Dean. I don’t like disorder. So clean this up. I need to know that you’ve got your house in order.
Why is it up to Dean alone? SAM came up with the plan and delivered the final blow in saving the world the first time! Heaven spent years telling Dean it was his responsibility alone because he was the Michael sword, yet it was Sam and Dean together who ultimately defeated Satan.
Yet, as this flashback clearly reminded us, his whole life, Dean has been told that everything is up to him:
Sam: Dad wouldn’t like this.
Dean: Dad’s not here, and he’d want me taking charge.
So here we are again. The ultimate powerful being telling Dean that he alone must “get his house in order” to execute the plan that the cosmos has fated for him. Rather than reject the entire premise, Dean took his orders, as he has always done.
The difference is that Sam and Castiel have both grown emotionally. Last week’s testimony from Castiel was evidence of his confidence in himself and his place in this world. His mission is to protect his son, Jack, and he is determined to find a way to make that happen. Sam’s leadership skills and confidence have also grown. His approach of questioning the obvious path, thinking strategically, and talking his way out of confrontations by compassionately addressing what his enemy truly needs or wants has been repeatedly shown to work, as recently as two weeks ago with an all-powerful, misguided wood nymph. The “talking” and “communicating” threads, and most recently the “compassion” thread, have been important this entire season. It’s reasonable to extrapolate that it is how the ultimate showdown with Chuck (and maybe Amara) is resolved. Maybe Jack is totally prepared to die, as Dean was in season 11, but talking to Chuck and Amara saves the day?
Dean has also changed. Caitlin told us that twice.
First, she said it in disappointment,
Caitlin: You’ve changed. Back then, you believed him, even before I did.
But after she thanked Dean for solving the murder (ignoring that Sam figured out what they were hunting and how to kill it), she said again in admiration:
Caitlin: You have changed. The old you never would have admitted that.
Dean: I’m not sure that’s a good thing.
Caitlin: I think so. What do they say about getting older? You tell the truth more because you know that lies – they don’t make anything better.
Since we were specifically told that Dean has changed (and we know it to be true), hopefully it won’t take him as long to figure out that he needs to trust his family, and that they all need to work together to beat the odds. He’s smarter than this. We need to give him time to apply adult lessons to childhood traumas.
Make particular note that in the flashback, both of the older children looked to their younger sibling for support and approval before taking action – Dean looked to Sam before telling others about monsters, and Caitlin looked to Travis before mentioning all the missing children. These small gestures meant the world to the moral of the story. Adult Dean asked Sam how they needed to kill the monster. Sam walked in when Dean was being attacked and together they killed the witch. They need to work together again to resolve their Chuck/Amara problem. I think Dean will figure that out.
Mind Games and Dream Worlds
So why the same old set up of brotherly angst and Dean as the savior? Since this episode was designed specifically to remind us of the past, I propose that recycling season’s 4 and 5’s supposition that Dean is the solo champion of free will is an intentional misdirect. The writers are playing mind games with us. From the very first episode this season, mind games have been at the forefront of nearly every story. Sam and Chuck were in each other’s minds, and Adam and Michael are perpetually in each other’s heads. Christian Kane’s character Lee was “living the dream” and Dean can tap dance in his dreams. Pool players are stuck in a gambler’s never ending nightmare of constantly losing, and Chuck watched realities burn as if they were fictional disaster movies on TV. This episode’s monster induced fear by conjuring illusions and making victims live some of their worst nightmares, and the aftermath of Dean’s childhood encounter with the monster was literal nightmares.
In my “The Heroes’ Journey” Threads review, I listed all the examples of things not being “real” up to that point, and the long line of altered realties has continued since then, including this story:
Dean: You say you saw a monster. I believe you. Monsters are real. Me, my dad – we hunt them. It’s kind of the family business.
Caitlin: Are you for real?
Sam: Yeah, he is.
Something we and our heroes are seeing is not real, or something we will see won’t be real. It’s totally within Chuck’s power for all of this to be another test for Sam and Dean, to see if humanity is ready to be on its own without him. Maybe if they prove themselves willing and able to go it alone, he and Amara will reunite and peacefully go their merry way to create new worlds, new stories. “Welcome to the end” he said in “Moriah” right before he snapped his fingers and changed reality. Is this his Endgame ala The Avengers? Is he setting up the final move, luring his prey into a scenario that has to play out before they can unite as never before to defeat the villain who controls all the elements – including time and reality? Is that the “reset” that the last two stories have teed up (credit to Alycat for catching that the countdown clock in “Gimme Shelter” kept “resetting” back to the beginning)?
A corollary to “resetting” reality is having “second chances.” The first time I was aware of the “second chance” thread was in “Last Holiday”. It really stood out when Mrs. Butters told Jack:
We all do things, things that we are not proud of. But… life give us second chances, and it is our obligation [curious choice of words] to hold onto them. Understand?
In last week’s “Gimme Shelter”, the soup kitchen ostensibly gave second chances to people down on their luck, but the phrase “second chance” wasn’t specifically written into the dialog, so although my attention to the topic was piqued, it didn’t’ seem to go anywhere… until this week when Sam referred to them getting a second chance to permanently stop the monster that terrorized them as children:
Sam: Okay, well, second chance. So, if we want to stop her for good this time, we need to figure out first what she even is. [defining what’s real]
Poor Travis was given a second chance at life after his childhood near-death experience with a shadowy figure trashed his life. Unable to reconcile the nightmare he and his sister saw with the reality that his therapist, and most sane people, cling to, his life crumbled beneath drugs and self-doubt. His second chance was working out, until he was forced to deny once and for all the truth he knew to be true – the truth that came back to kill him.
Caitlin: Travis said he needed to “face his fears.” His doctor called it immersion therapy, to heal [thread noted last week].
Dean was also given a second chance to tell his brother the truth, having kept secret for 25 years his fears and findings from his first encounter with the Baba Yaga (I had to type that 3 times to not end up with Baby Yoda!). On a deeper level, though, this thread could easily foreshadow the “second chance” or “reset” of the universe we’ve contemplated. Chuck pushes “reset” and poof – no monsters, no supernatural beings telling you what to do. Just free will and family.
Alternately, the Team Free Will’s final plan may be a sting operation on Chuck, whereby he won’t be able to trust anything he is seeing. Or maybe it is us who are being fooled. The “Then” montage specifically restated Sam telling Jack that he was the only one who could defeat Chuck. That belief was reinforced by Billie’s visit, telling Dean this is the only way they will win. “Only one way” is Billie’s MO, because she doesn’t like “disorder”, but her being wrong about the Malek box established the precedent that she isn’t infallible. The boys have, and can again, “find another way”, as Cas left to do last week.
I know Emberlast asked for theories on the meaning of the episode’s title in her story recap. I’m anxious to read your thoughts because nothing in this episode jumped out at me as an explanation for its name. Travis was dragged away from Caitlin by a well-intentioned but naïve therapist, so one sibling being dragged away from another?
I enjoyed “Drag Me Away (From You)” as a stand-alone MoTW story. It was fun to have another classic Supernatural hunt, but it was truly aggravating to have to listen to Billie lay the responsibility for saving the world entirely on Dean’s shoulders, ignoring Sam again, and to watch Dean fall into that old trap of feeling alone. I also can’t disagree with Alice’s frustration that this isn’t the time for MoTW stories. I concur that there is absolutely no momentum going into the final 4 episodes of the series. This isn’t a normal season. We shouldn’t be getting normal episodes.
In a way, it’s more merciful that we aren’t hanging by a thread, terrified by a peril that ensnared our boys in the last episode. On the other hand, it’s disappointing that the end hasn’t engaged us emotionally at all. While we might be intellectually curious how it’s all going to work out, I’m not sensing in the fandom that desperate need to see what happens next; that tightness in your chest that tells you your friends are in mortal danger. I feel like I’m an interested bystander rather than a fan who has loved this story dearly for years.
Oh well. This was a good episode, just like last week’s was intriguing, and the prior week’s was fun. They’ve been scary or gory or classic, but they haven’t been gripping. But we won’t know what’s really happening until all is revealed. I love these characters, so I’m not going to complain about getting to see them work things out – hopefully for the better. I trust them, even if they are still figuring out how to trust each other.
I raised many questions, and the episodes raised even more, so please share your thoughts below!
Catch up on Nightsky's "Threads" reviews! Links can be found on her writer's page.