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Reveling in the fickle nature of fangirlishness

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Dean Winchester: What he is and What he could have been
An old TV Guide Blog:

Friedrich Nietzsche said, "The irrationality of a thing is no argument against its existence, rather a condition of it."


T.S. Eliot wrote "Between the idea and the reality, between the motion and the act, falls the shadow."


Helen Keller said, "A happy life consists not in the absence, but in the mastery of hardships"


Those of you who know me well on the boards, know of my Dean-centric proclivities. My blogs are prime examples of my obsessive leaning towards Dean Wincester. I stand before you unashamed. So you must know that when I heard about the episode, What Is and What Should Never Be, ecstatic doesn't even begin to describe my joy and excitement of having an episode that will cover what many of us have speculated for a long time (and for this Dean-girl, it doesn't hurt that it's a Dean-centric episode too).

The eternal "What if" scenario:

What if the demon had never touched the lives of the Winchester family and they actually had a normal life?


And now, we have our wish. What Is and What Should Never Be explores this notion and in very interesting ways, both from the mythology of Supernatural and in its interesting placement just before the 2-part Season Finales.


The Road So Far:

In Season 1, it has been Sam who has longed for and has desired a normal life. He has never fully accepted or embraced the hunter's life he's been forced into. Yes, he was trained, probably hating every second of it, but he reluctantly lived that life.

All the while he was harboring and nurturing the secret hope and dream that he would find a way out of the "family business" and have that normal life. He then becomes 18, has been secretly applying to colleges and to his delight, he gets a full ride to Stanford (a humorous sidetrack here, as a UC Berkeley graduate and who works there, it was a bone of contention for me that Sam was attending Stanford. College rivalries never die, hee, hee, okay, enough digression).

Sam sees this as his ticket out, his first step into the world of normal and living a normal life. He tells his father, hoping for acceptance and pride, though not expecting it. By this time, he and his father have already been at odds with each other, fighting constantly, rebellious son versus drill sargeant father. Unfortunately, Sam gets what he expects from his father. Anger and bitter recrimination about abandoning the family. Harsh words are exchanged and the ultimatum cast, "If you go to college, don't bother coming back". And so Sam leaves. He lives 2 years of normal college life, finds a lovely woman named Jessica, falls in love, plans to ask her to marry him and is going to law school interviews. Life seems sweet at last for Sam.

Then their father disappears. Dean appears on his doorstep, asks for his help in finding him and he agrees to help. Upon returning from putting to rest the Woman in White, if not finding their father, Sam loses Jessica in the same way they lost their mother. Revenge has now been sowed in Sam as it had for his father over 22 years ago.

The dream of a normal life destroyed in that same instant.


And then there's Dean.


In Season 1, Dean is the quintessential hunter. He lives and breathes the legacy given to him:


"I think he wants us to pick up where he left off, you know, saving people, hunting things, the family business."


He accepts his "inheritance" and embraces the life. He knows he's good at and truly enjoys saving people. It gives him fulfillment in a way. You can see it in his eyes.

Dean has tasted normal. He had his mother, his father, and Sammy. He knew the happily ever after. He had it and had lived it. It stands to reason that of all people, you would think that by having known normal he would want it as badly, if not more, than Sam who never knew it, but it's not the normal he desires most, it's being a family again. Dad, Sammy, and Dean, together again. He even expresses this to Sam only to have Sam dash it because he still doesn't want the life of a hunter. Sam acknowledges the symbolic nature of family, but can't give Dean his dream of being physically together again.

So Dean does what he has done from the very beginning. He pockets his own dream and defers to the needs of his family.  

As the shapeshifter reveals, Sam got to go college, have friends and have a life. It admitted to Sam that Dean had dreams of his own, but he stayed because their father needed him. Most painful of all, he tells him that he knows he's a freak and that sooner or later everyone would leave him. Sam already had and despite doing everything their father had asked of him, he "ditched" him too.

Abandonment. Being alone. He doesn't want to do the family business alone. He wants his family by his side.  

It's what Dean has known and felt all along yet he still fights and fights for his family no matter what because keeping them safe keeps his dream alive. The YED even taunts him about his devotion and tries to tap into his worst insecurity, that they don't need him as much as he needs them. In the end, it doesn't matter, they are still the most important people in his life and he would sacrifice himself for them in a heartbeat, his own.

Dipping into Season 2 briefly, Dean's dream truly dies with John Winchester's death. Sam is all he has left now.

This death of Dean's dream comes also with an awful secret that seeks to seal the coffin on that dream, the dreaded possibility that he would have to kill his beloved brother and have no family left to him.

So, now we come to the final few episodes of Season 2. Sam suddenly embraces his hunter side, but is facing an uncertain future. Dean falters under the weight of having to face killing his brother, but emerges from the darkness more convinced that he will save him instead.

Then comes What Is and What Should Never Be, an unexpected chance for Dean to see what "might have been" and to be given the choice of a normal life and to have his family back together.

As the saying goes, "Be careful what you wish for":


While hunting a Djinn -- a genie -- Dean (Jensen Ackles) is attacked and transported to a world where his mother (guest star Samantha Smith) is alive, Sam (Jared Padalecki) is in law school and engaged to Jessica (guest star Adrianne Palicki), and Dean lives a very normal life with his girlfriend (guest star Michelle Borth). However, after he starts seeing a strange girl (guest star Melanie Neige Scrofano) and learns all the people he has saved in the past have died, Dean must decide whether he wants to stay in this new safe life where everyone he loves is alive or if he should return to the hunt.


Don't you love the "Howevers" of life?


Though we all know what Dean chooses (this is Supernatural, not Leave it to Beaver, after all), it will be fascinating to watch the terrible struggle Dean will have to undergo to come to his choice. It's not unlike his temptation to make the deal with the Crossroads demon. His soul for his father's, his life for the return of his father. We held our breaths wondering if Dean would make the deal because it's not inconceivable that he would. Himself for his family. It's aways been a no-brainer.

This time, however, he is facing a different choice.


A larger more metaphysical question:


What would have happened to all the people Dean has saved if he had never become a hunter?


The answer is clear. They all would have died because Dean wasn't there to save them. There goes that word, save again. It threads through Dean's life in so many ways. He saves in so many ways.

This episode has an "It's a Wonderful Life" quality to it that brings a whole new undercurrent to the mythology. It will bring us back yet again to those immortal words that have also threaded just about every Season 2 episode together.


"Saving people, hunting things, the family business."


For all Dean is, brother and son, he is also a hunter of evil. He loves his family, wants them all together, but at what price? The question has never been put to him that losing his mother and then later, his father be the price he would have to pay in order to save others. Now he has the choice to save his family, have the life others have, give Sam that normal life he so wants, but at what cost? Is it truly worth letting those others die? 

The part of Dean that is heroic and who is a warrior at heart would have a terrible time rationalizing sacrificing innocents for his own gain. Much as he thinks of himself as selfish, much as he loves his family and wants them to live, could the warrior in him, the elemental part of him that cares about the good in humanity, in humanity itself, choose to let those others die so that he can have what he wants?

We all know the answer even without knowing the seemingly obvious outcome. Dean is not that kind of man. As horrendous the choice is, he would choose humanity, life for those he saved willingly and happily. Could he live with the death of Lucas? Haley? Her brother Tommy? Michael and the other children? And SO many others? I don't think so. It's not in him to abandon them.

As a last observation for us fans, I find it telling to this vivid imagination that this episode precedes the 2 part season finale. Why you may ask? Well, Dean has gone through a lot this season and now with the knowledge that he may have to kill Sam if he can't save him, he has never felt so much doubt and uncertainty in the whole of his hunting life. And as we all know, the thought of giving it all up has definitely crossed his mind, but one wonders if in the reality of Heart, Dean is once again, uncertain and doubtful about himself and his ability to save Sam. I see What Is and What Should Never Be as a way to have Dean see what he could have been only to realize it's not who he really is. He was given the opportunity for those options he told Jo about. At the time, he thought that if he had the same opportunity for making a choice, he would have chosen something else, done something else, but now, having been actually given that choice, he realizes a hunter is who is, who he was meant to be and saving people is what he was meant to do. And on some level, being a hunter is the only way he even has a chance to save Sam.

I think What Is and What Should Never Be will restore his self-confidence and his belief that he will save Sam as he has saved others. It was what he was born to do, that all things that have come before was to prepare him for when "all hell breaks loose."