WARNING: MAJOR SPOILERS FOR SUPERNATURAL AHEAD. READ ON WITH CAUTION.
As part of my series on fictional shows that remind me of God’s unconditional love (see my introduction post here), I am writing this week on the fantasy/horror show Supernatural.
I hate categorizing the show that way, though. For me, it’s much less about the horror and fantasy and more about relationship and loyalty.
There is so much I could write about Supernatural. I really like this show, if only because of the two main characters.
Those main characters are brothers Dean and Sam Winchester. Both give up their lives for each other over and over, but Dean, by virtue of being the older brother, is mostly concerned about Sam. Sam is concerned about Dean but also about the fate of the world. Like Scotty with Kelly in I Spy, while Dean hurts because Sam hurts; Sam hurts because of himself, at least in the first eight seasons. In subsequent seasons the two have become more equal, expressing their love for each other nearly the same amount, and this only continues to show God’s unconditional love.
There are many reasons I don’t like Supernatural: I’m not a fan of the horror or fantasy genres; I don’t like the show’s representation and treatment of women (in general); I don’t like how the show twists Biblical truths and characters (although this does make for a fascinating story). I don’t bring this up to trash the show; rather, to show why I like it. Because what I do like about Supernatural outweighs all these negatives, in my opinion.
Primarily, I like Sam and Dean. Their relationship is the heart of the show and what makes Supernatural so much more than a typical “kill the demons and save the world” kind of story.
(One final alert: There are major spoilers ahead.)
Introduction to Supernatural and the Winchester Brothers
For a bit of background, Dean and Sam are both the sons of John and Mary Winchester and were born four years apart. Mary was killed by a demon when Sam was a baby, and retired Marine John dedicated the rest of his life to traveling around and finding that demon. Dean and Sam both help their dad hunt, but Sam longs for a normal life and goes away to Stanford for college. He’s on the brink of applying to law school as a senior when Dean shows up in the pilot episode, seeking Sam’s help to find a missing John.
Then Sam’s girlfriend Jess is killed (by the same demon that killed his mother), and he dedicates his life to hunting too. At the end of the first season, however, John gives up his life to save Dean, so the story truly becomes all about Sam and Dean.
Dean is a typical tough guy who loves his car, the infamous 1967 black Chevy Impala that he inherited after his father’s death, girls (and/or sex), superheroes, pie, alcohol, and his brother. He has a GED and enjoys hunting; he never envisioned any other life for himself. He helped raise Sam after their mother’s death and was often the mediator between John and Sam. Like his father, he is gruff, coarse, and prefers to bury his emotions—most of the time.
Sam, on the other hand, is more intellectual; he is more often the one to research demons and other creatures. He is very concerned with justice and keeping innocent people safe, and he blames himself for deaths of innocents throughout the show. He also seems to think that he is not as “tough” as Dean and regularly disappoints him. (Actually, Dean is not at all disappointed.) While Dean does blame himself, it’s more often for others’ pain—especially Sam’s. Sam tends to blame himself for anyone’s pain as well as anyone’s death, and for his own mistakes. He seems easier racked by guilt and less sure of himself (heard this before?). He is also more emotionally open and in tune with himself than Dean; he encourages Dean to talk about what he’s feeling, though Dean often resists this. And of course, he cares a lot about Dean.
But Dean is in a special position as not only an older brother but a quasi-father and mother figure to Sam: he is willing to let the whole world go to hell (literally) if it means keeping his brother safe.
Supernatural is into its thirteenth season, so I’m not going to be able to analyze specific episodes as I did with I Spy, as there are so many moments where Dean’s love for Sam becomes obvious. Actually, it’s obvious all the time, but I’m going to try to be as specific and coherent as I can, moving through the series chronologically.
Buckle Your Seatbelts and Don't Try to Change the Music . . .
Sam chose to leave his family, even though it was probably painful to leave his brother because he knew it was for the best. Dean let him go, but also was the one to seek him out in the pilot episode to recruit his help in searching for John. Sam is reluctant, especially because he knows Dean doesn’t really need his help. Dean surprisingly acquiesces to this and says, “Well, I don’t want to [do it alone].” That about sums it up. He doesn’t need Sam with him, but he wants Sam with him. He wants to reunite their family.
Sam goes with him for the weekend, planning to return to Stanford before Monday. He and Dean engage in some great banter, in which Dean calls Sam “Sammy” when Sam complains about Dean's classic rock collection--just like he did when they were kids. “House rules, Sammy,” he says. “Driver picks the music; shotgun shuts his cakehole.”
Sam responds, “You know, Sammy is a chubby twelve-year-old. It’s Sam, okay?”
Dean cleverly says, “Sorry, can’t hear you. The music’s too loud.”
This continues throughout the series until Sam finally stops complaining about it, just accepting that Dean is never going to stop calling him “Sammy.” Not only does this nickname show Dean’s affection for Sam, but it also shows how close Dean is to Sam. No one else gets to call Sam Sammy (see “Bloodlust,” when Gordon Walker calls Sam “Sammy” and Sam says, “He’s [Dean’s] the only one who gets to call me that”) except Ruby, who eventually deceives Sam anyway.
When Jess is killed, Sam joins his family hunting, but he only joins because Dean sought him out first. This sounds a lot like what God does: He seeks us out. And eventually, Sam enjoys hunting, realizing he can help a lot of people.
When Sam is killed in season two, Dean loses it. He cries staring at Sam’s body, and then he makes a deal with a demon to give his life for Sam: Sam comes back to life, and Dean goes to hell in a year, presumably for good. It’s a crummy deal, but Dean wants Sam alive. This sure sounds like Christ to me. He willingly died so that no one else has to. We just have to accept His love.
Granted, this is often hard for us to accept, just as it is hard for Sam to accept Dean’s deal. He calls the deal “selfish,” with which Dean agrees but is okay with. “I’m not,” Sam says, but Dean says, “Tough. After everything I’ve done for this family, I think I’m entitled.” In other words, there is no way Sam is going to stop Dean from keeping him alive. Actually, both men work to reverse the deal, but that doesn’t work, so Dean takes what’s coming to him.
In the midst of this the brothers have a deep conversation about trying to kill Lilith, the demon who killed their mother and Jess. “Don’t you see a pattern here?” Dean asks. “Dad’s deal, my deal, now this? I mean, every time one of us is up the creek, the other is begging to sell their soul. That’s all this is, man. Ruby’s just jerking your chain down the road.”
“This is me, I can handle it,” Sam says (and Dean shakes his head). “And if it’ll save you—”
“Why even risk it?”
“Because you’re my brother. Because you did the same thing for me.”
“I know, and look how that turned out. . . . Sammy, all I’m saying is that you’re my weak spot. You are. And I’m yours.”
“You don’t mean that, we’re family,” Sam says.
Dean is not normally this open with his feelings, but he is in this moment to show Sam how much their love for each other can be used against them. He doesn’t want Sam to lose his life just to save Dean. Of course, Dean is much more important than that, but as usual, he puts Sam before himself.
When it’s time for Dean to go to hell, Sam is the one crushed: “I’m not gonna let you go to hell, Dean!” he says.
“Yes you are!” Dean responds. “I’m sorry. I mean this is all my fault. . . . But what you’re doing, it’s not gonna save me, it’s only gonna kill you.” Dean’s concern is with Sam, not with himself. That selflessness certainly reminds me of God.
(Of course Dean is sprung from hell by an angel; he can’t stay dead, that just wouldn’t work.)
In season four Sam begins drinking demon blood as a way to make himself stronger so he can kill off more demons. He’s had some inside of him since he was a baby, but wants more. He doesn’t tell Dean this, and when Dean finds out, he is ticked off. Eventually he forces Sam to detox, but Sam returns to drinking the blood after—only to realize that Ruby, who was giving him the blood, was tricking him all along.
Thus in season five, Sam is contrite, but Dean’s trust in him has been broken. “I’m having a hard time forgiving and forgetting here, you know?” he says to Sam. However, Dean soon realizes separating from Sam is the wrong thing to do: “I was . . . wrong,” he says. “. . . . maybe we are each other’s Achilles’ heel. Maybe they’ll find a way to use us against each other. I don’t know. I just know we’re all we’ve got. More than that. We keep each other human.” Dean is not perfect, but he does return to Sam, and appears willing to trust him again—much as God gives us second chances.
At the end of season five, Dean allows Sam (who is being controlled by Lucifer) to beat him up, only saying, “It’s okay, Sammy. I’m here. I’m here. I’m not gonna leave you,” in hope that Sam will recognize him. Upon seeing an old plastic army man from childhood, Sam does remember. The only thing that enables him to defeat evil is the love of his brother.
Sam ends up going to hell to save the world, and Dean is devastated. He lives with a girlfriend, but when Sam returns a year later he immediately gives up his life and reunites with his brother, even though Sam has no soul and is much less caring than he was.
Dean makes a deal to get Sam’s soul back, and when Sam begins having flashbacks of hell from “scratching” the wall in his head, Dean gets mad at Sam only because he knows Sam is going to cause himself more pain by scratching the walls. Once the hallucinations start, Dean engrosses himself in finding a way to cure Sam. When the hallucinations reach their peak, Dean does the only thing he can think of and tries to remind Sam of physical, not mental, pain by grabbing his injured hand: “Hey! This is real. Not a year ago, not in hell, now. I was with you when you cut it, I sewed it up. Look.” He presses his thumb into Sam’s stitches. “This is different, right? Than the crap that’s tearing at your walnut? I’m different, right?”
Sam rips his hand away, but is still unsure. “Hey,” Dean says, “I am your flesh-and-blood brother, okay? I am the only one who can legitimately kick your ass in real time. You got away. We got you out, Sammy. Believe in that! Believe me! All right, you gotta believe me. You gotta make it stone number one and build on it, you understand?” Throughout this, Dean’s face goes from angry to horribly pained—openly showing his emotions. Again, the one person who can save Sam is Dean, because no one knows Sam better than Dean. Not even the devil.
In season eight, Sam contemplates living a normal life with a new-found girlfriend, having let down Dean again by not searching for him when he was missing. Dean also tries to hunt with a new-found friend, but the two eventually end up cutting ties with their new acquaintances and hunting together as before. Sam takes on trials in the hopes of stopping the Apocalypse, which Dean doesn’t like but allows. However, the trials soon take their toll on Sam, physically weakening him. Sam tries to play down how bad off he is, but Dean can see right through him. He reassures Sam that they’ll continue the mission, but “you gotta let me take care of you, man. You gotta let me help you get your strength back.” Dean, just like God, is always willing to help Sam when help is needed—and he doesn’t care what Sam thinks about it.
When Sam is about to complete the third trial Dean finds him and tries to convince him to stop, because completing the trial will kill him. But Sam, not surprisingly, doesn’t care that he will die. What is more, he feels guilty. “Other people will die if I don’t finish this!” he says. Dean says their knowledge can help them win over evil—including Sam’s. But Sam is convinced he is only a burden to Dean. “You think I screw up everything I try, you think I need a chaperone, remember?”
“Come on man, that’s not what I meant,” Dean says.
“That’s exactly what you meant,” Sam says. “You wanna know what I confessed in there? What my greatest sin was? Was how many times I let you down. I can’t do that again. What happens when you’ve decided I can’t be trusted again? . . .”
“Just hold on,” Dean finally cuts him off. “Do you seriously think that? Because none of it, none of it, is true. Listen man I know we’ve had our disagreements . . . but Sammy, come on. . . . I’m willing to let this bastard, and all the sons of bitches that killed Mom walk because of you. Don’t you dare think that there is anything, past or present, that I would put in front of you! It has never been like that, ever! I need you to see that. I’m begging you.”
“How do I stop?” Sam asks.
“Just let it go,” Dean says (easier said than done!). “We’ll figure it out, okay? Just like we always do.”
This speech is what we all need to remember, because it is how God feels about us. Even as I write this I find myself questioning that fact, but I have to believe it, because otherwise I have no hope. God puts nothing in front of us; He cared so much about us that He died for us, just like Dean died for Sam, and just like Dean shows here. There is nothing that means more to God than us, His creation.
One could easily call Sam and Dean dependent on each other, or even codependent (as they have been sarcastically called in the series). Codependency between humans is not a good thing, but dependency isn't always bad. And the Christian's relationship with God needs to be dependent. Many people, afraid of losing their autonomy, never fully give in to another, but in order to really know God's love, you have to fully give in to Him. You have to let Him carry you. Sam and Dean depend on and trust each other all the time, in what I think is a beautiful representation of God's love and trustworthiness.
When Dean goes missing in season nine, Sam actually searches for him and tries to cure him, although without success. At the end of the season, when Dean is told he has to kill Sam, Sam shows him pictures of them with their parents, and Dean kills Death instead. In this situation, Sam plays “God”—only he can save Dean because of his and Dean’s relationship. No one knows Dean better than Sam.
The more recent seasons don’t have as many obvious moments to point to (more rabid fans, feel free to disagree with me), but Sam and Dean stay together and don’t seem to fight as much. Sam also seems less guilt-stricken (it took him long enough!). Suffice it to say that Dean and Sam are still each other’s “weak spots” and likely always will be. While both are fully capable of acting on their own, they work best together; and while both care unconditionally about each other, Dean perhaps feels a bit more responsibility for Sam, being the older brother. In some ways both characters act as “God” and as “man,” but from at least the first eight seasons, I would say Dean saves Sam more often than Sam saves Dean, and remains truer to Sam than Sam does to Dean. Perhaps Sam finally searching for Dean in subsequent seasons reveals his increasing faithfulness to his brother—much as believers in Christ grow more faithful to Him as we get closer to Him. Certainly Sam’s unconditional love towards Dean seems to be stronger than ever, and this too reminds me of God’s love.
To sum it all up: Dean and Sam’s relationship is very much much like God and humanity’s relationship, and it is a relationship I return to again and again to reassure me of God’s love for me. My reasoning goes like this: Dean has forgiven Sam over and over—and though it is a struggle for him sometimes, many times it isn’t at all. Dean simply forgives and protects Sam because he loves him; that’s it. There’s no deeper explanation or justification needed. If Dean, a mere mortal, loves Sam that much—even when Sam rebels, turns evil, or rejects Dean—how much more does God, a perfect being, love me?