I was in such a rush to shove the viewing of this epi into the small pocket of time I had that I really didn’t let the impact of what we were seeing hit me until a couple of hours later. For the first time since starting these streams of consciousnesses I’m not writing this immediately after viewing. And I think that made a difference for me.
My heart is really breaking for our boys. Twisted up and TENSE, man.
I’m in a bit of a rush, so we’ll see if I can be coherent, despite the notes I took. First of all, the idea of doing a teen!chester was clever. We’ve seen the boys young, we’ve seen them on the cusp of puberty, and now we’ve seen them in the most trying time of any child’s life: high school.
I hated myself in high school. I had a few close friends, but I was sure a fly on the wall. I actually graduated with people I’d gone to school with for four years who looked at me and asked if I’d just transferred there that year. I was painfully shy, quiet, did the homework for my crush’s girlfriends… you know the type. I spent a lot of my time taking care of my two younger siblings, so I wasn’t really into the socialization of school much, but everything we saw in this episode just screamed adolescence is HELL. And it’s a hell we can all relate to.
The baddie in this one was just such a tragic story. It really made me sad. It’s a lesson we can all learn from, but when you’re a kid it’s not a lesson that can be easily absorbed: you don’t know what compels a person’s actions until you know them. Until, like Atticus Finch said, you stand in his shoes and walk around in them for awhile. Young Sam had no way of knowing that the mean bully who called him Losechester, who constantly constantly picked on his geeky friend, who threatened and belittled and pushed his weight around had just lost his mother.
And it wasn’t a quick loss, either. It was a slow, wasting death that Dirk’s father wasn’t around for because he was working three jobs. It was a death that Dirk, at 13 had to witness as he took care of his dying mother’s meds and needs. It was a responsibility that kid’s young shoulders should never have had to bear and because of that, he acted out. He rebelled. He bullied and pushed people around and belittled them because he had to find some way to build himself up.
In a similar vein, we see young Sam stepping out of the shadow of the family business to dare to write a non-fictional paper about a moment with his family, and tell the truth. We see him try to protect the geek, despite the fact that he totally hadn’t gotten his growth spurt, poor little guy. We see him confess to the teacher that with every fiber of his little being he does not want to follow in his father’s footsteps.
And then, there’s young Dean. I will admit that I wasn’t sure what I was going to think when I found out the premise of this episode. And when we see 16-year-old (ish) Dean emerge from the Impala (with circa ’97 Kansas plates!! Whoo-hoo!), I thought he looked more like a young Castiel than a young Dean. But as his story played out, I saw the truth in it. I think I had to remember that I wasn’t seeing a miniaturized version of the Dean we’re living with now – the Dean that had lost his entire family, had sacrificed his soul to save his brother and had therefore lived with a death sentence for a year, had been to Hell and back after surviving 30 years of torture and 10 years of torturing. We were seeing the Dean that 10 years from this moment would hit on his little brother’s girlfriend in front of his brother. We were seeing a kid who had never had balance and stability and the only way to protect himself was to keep up a tough-guy, Dallas Winston-like persona so that he could survive the life that we all take for granted as “normal” until he was able to return to his kind of normal.
Before I go into more of a play-by-play, I need to say one thing: I feel a bit like a yo-yo. We were left last week with Sam heading off to parts unknown with Ruby saying that he was “in.” We don’t know where he went, what he’s into, what ramifications it will/has had. What is it that he is doing/can do that can be kept so easily from Dean so that they can head to Fairfax, IN, to investigate a bizarre death? And can be… I don’t know, put on hold? I’m confused and tense and… argh! Worried, okay? I’m worried. There, I’ve said it. Dang show… making me worry about characters that aren’t even really real outside of our fantasies…
Moving on. There was some GORE in this epi, man. And the beginning was the epitome of the phrase “shit rolls downhill.” I felt for the poor brunette cheerleader and frowned at the cruelty of the “in” crowd… until she visited the same on the heavy-set girl that dared to offer her some comfort. If you think about it, though, all wounded animals lash out, even at the ones attempting to help them. It can’t always be helped. If you’re hurting you want to hurt back. And it doesn’t always matter who is on the receiving end. I know I’ve been guilty of that in my adult life, for sure.
The black goo coming out of April’s eyes after she literally beat the CRAP out of Taylor (see? With notes, I manage to pick up the names… heh) reminded me sooo much of the X-files and the alien… thingy. I never thought “ectoplasm” because I kinda thought that was green. Guess I’ve seen Ghostbusters one too many times. Anyway, we get to see Sam I Really Care About What You’re Saying Winchester in his white fake doctor duds listening to April tell a tale that sounds exactly like demonic possession, only… no sulfer… no black smoke… hmmm.
When they decide that going to the high school is the best idea to solve the case, Dean is visibly squirmy, and I immediately wondered what might have happened there, forming scenarios from abuse to neglect to bullying to broken hearts. Turns out, I was kinda right about all of them. We see our beloved Impala pull up with the Kansas plates back where they belong (no offense, Ohio) and Dean and Sam emerge, Dean checking on Sam’s supplies: “Got your lunch? Books? Butterfly knife?”
Sam really struck me as in-character to now Sam, while Dean struck me as previous Dean. I liked the effect of Dean wearing his Dad’s leather jacket to help complete “the look” only to have that jacket look about five sizes too big. Sam’s confession that he was tired of being the new kid tugged at my heart a little, but y’know, while hard to deal with, they’re not exactly alone in that. I think about all the “Military Brats” that have had to move with their families year to year without having a say in the matter. High school is hard enough. I can’t imagine what it would be like to survive the initiation every year, month, week…
Dean’s disrespectful addressing of the teacher as sweetheart felt very in-character to me. He couldn’t afford to have anyone take an interest in him the way Mr. Wyatt took an interest in Sam. By this time, the life of a hunter is so ingrained into him that he knows that’s what he wants to do, he is at home in that life, he is at “peace” in that life, and he knows they will not be there long enough for any connections to matter anyway, so why bother. Plus? He immediately puts all authority figures in a particular place where they have a particular assessment of him: rebellious trouble maker, not worth their time or care. That way? He keeps them safely away from him and from looking to closely at their living arrangement.
Always the protector, even with an attitude.
Sam’s suppressed amusement when he informed Dean that he had an idea for their undercover personas was a sure tell that Dean was in for a treat. Sam as the janitor, Dean as… the gym teacher? *Gaelic rolls on floor* I think Dean had a little TOO much fun with the shorts, knee socks, and sweat band. Not to mention the bitchin’ sweat suit he was sporting later on. His “the whistle makes me their god” and “after lunch…today is sloppy joe day” comments added a needed burst (albeit small) of humor in an otherwise heartbreakingly sad and way too close to home episode.
Okay, so the blender and the hand?? Holy. Crap. I haven’t been that skeeved out by a kitchen appliance since Home and the repair man with the garbage disposal. BLECK. So… because of that death and the subsequent observation by janitor Sam (who was in the home ec room because…) of the black goo ectoplasm leaking out of Revenge of the Nerd’s ear, they determine ghost possession, which, while rare, takes some pretty serious rage.
Oh, and apparently three of the cheerleaders are legal, leading to a quick frown of disapproval from prudish “I will have sex with a demon but scold you for your roguish ways” little brother Sam to smirking, then subdued “dude, I was just looking” horny big brother Dean. Heh. Boys.
I found myself saying “Oh, Sammy,” so many times in this epi, especially when we find out that Barry (he of the geek reference earlier) committed suicide one year after the Winchesters left the school. We see little Sam helping out Barry from (apparently misunderstood) Dirk, not fighting, but defending none-the-less. We see Dean in the janitor closet with a blonde kissing away. Little wanna-be stud. Made me sad for him. Especially when he tried to play off their living situation in a hotel room alone as a bonus while the blonde (incidentally, named Amanda. Heh.) looked on in sad disgust asking, “Don’t you miss your Dad?”
Sam and Barry’s exchange about Dean as they passed in the hall was pure our Sam.
Barry: “He’s cool.”
Sam: “He thinks so.”
I can just see the Ginormous One saying that today. However, little Sam was a bad ass when he told Barry to get out of there and took a hit. Back in the now, they are burning Barry’s bones eliciting a comment from Dean that got me in the gut for reasons I can’t really pin to the wall: “Small guy to cook.”
Ever observant about his brother’s behavior, Dean asks if Sam’s okay. Sam of course comes back with a “Barry was my friend and I just burned his bones.” Dude, he was just checking on you, okay. Chill out. But the thing is? Sam’s guilt has teeth and it’s burying those fangs deep in his heart, refusing to let go. He thinks if Dad had just let them stay a little longer, he might’ve been able to help Barry. Pragmatic as always when it comes to trying to alleviate Sam’s guilt (though he never seems to do the same for himself), Dean says that Barry was on every anti-depressant possible, that school was hell for him, and that there was probably nothing Sam could have done.
Back in ’97, Dean is going ballistic with a “going to rip his lungs out” threat when he finds out that Sam was at the business end of Dirk’s fists of fury. The exchange between the boys is expected. Dean claiming Sam could have taken him, Sam rebutting that he just wants to be normal. But to Dean, normal isn’t “fitting in” in high school. It’s carrying a butterfly knife and taking out a bully because he knows how. I can’t imagine how incredibly confusing high school must have been to these two. Dean looked like he wanted to crawl out of his skin when he revealed that Dad had called, needing another week on the hunt. “We weren’t supposed to be here this long…”
Makes me wonder how they were paying for the hotel. Makes me think about how comfortable Dean was with credit card scams because he had to be. Makes me think about how they were eating and where and when. Makes me thank God that my baby girl won’t have to live that way. Not if I can help it.
Dude. Epiphany. I think I just realized why we saw this episode when we did, and why we haven’t learned more about why we don’t yet know what Sam is into with Ruby. This is the motivation. This epi was to tell us more about why Sam makes the choices he does, while simultaneously offering us more insight into the journey Dean’s character has traveled. Processing as I write here, so… Mr. Wyatt calls Sa on his supposedly non-fiction werewolf story, commenting on how his brother is quite a character and his dad seems driven. His subsequent conversation with Sam is that Sam is very talented and he wonders if Sam wants to go into the family business.
Sam confesses that no one has ever asked him that, and in that moment, the teacher infuses the following advice into Sam: “There are only three of four big choices that shape your life and you need to be the one to make those choices.” Later, Sam returns to tell Mr. Wyatt that he was the reason Sam went to college and that Mr. Wyatt showed an interest in him when no one else did. The epi closes on Sam’s face of scattered emotions with Mr. Wyatt asking him if he’s happy.
Between that and Sam’s realization that he coined the harsh nickname Dirk the Jerk that sent an already troubled kid into a tailspin of rebellion, hurt, drugs, alcohol and an eventual overdose that took his life while his father said that his son “slipped through his fingers,” Sam is bombarded by guilt, remorse, sorrow, and a need to do things differently this time. To take care of this. To be “in.”
*stomach is TIGHT*
Dean wants the burning of Barry’s bones to be the end of it. He hated that school, and for a moment we’re led to believe that it’s because of Sam getting hit by the bully. As he allows Sam his “oh Captain my Captain” moment (which, incidentally is one of my favorite moments of that movie), we see Sam get STABBED in the CHEST by a PROTRACTOR. Dude. OUCH. The ghost wasn’t Barry. Um, whoops. Back at the Impala, Dean is patching his brother up with a “gonna rip that ghost’s lungs out” ineffectual, but no less touching, threat against the thing that had DARED mess with his brother. In a gesture I found both humorous and touching, he hands Sam a bottle of whiskey, saying it would help, which Sam immediately places against his, um, *ahem* manhood that he ghost viciously nailed. Soon after, when they realize that all the victims had ridden the same bus, Dean takes back the same bottle and takes a swig. Heh.
So, the bus driver is Dirk the Jerk’s dad, who had Dirk cremated, but kept a lock of Dirk’s hair in his Bible (which was on his bus). That just made me inexplicably sad. It’s hard to be a parent. And my girl is only two. She is my life. And I can’t imagine what high school is going to be like for her. And I can’t imagine how I’ll be able to help her through it. And I refuse to imagine losing her like this man lost his son. God, just… guh. Sam’s face in that man’s living room was crushed and remorseful. Dean’s was stricken and sad. Death is not kind.
Okay, so we’re at the bus, Sam holding the possessed driver off with a shotgun full of rocksalt while Dean grabs him with a rope soaked in salt water. Clever, that. The fight goes south, tough, when they aren’t able to find the hair straight away and the ghost jumps from the bus driver when Sam pumps him full of rocksalt shot into probably the meatiest jock on the bus, then proceeds to BEAT THE CRAP out of Sam. I mean, seriously. Ouch. Dean finds the hair, burns it, then, in a truly “I know you got beat to hell, but you’re still breathing and don’t look hurt too bad so I’m going to lighten the mood with a little humor” expression says that the jock “full cowgirl”’d Sam. HA!
Oh, and before I forget? Dean’s confession that he’s not really the gym coach but a 21 Jump Street cop and the guy was selling pot… *LAUGH* Classic.
Dean’s final moment in the school flashback revealed the real reason Dean hated that school. Caught “cheating” on his new girlfriend Amanda, he tries to stumble his way out of it with your standard “she means nothing to me” and Amanda calls him on it. She slaps him with the hard, unmitigated truth that he spends so much time and effort to look cool when in reality he’s just a sad, lonely little boy. Dean’s limp “I save lives!” retort is so young, such a teenage effort at redemption of reputation that I wanted to cry.
She was right. And that just sucks. Because it wasn’t his fault, just like it wasn’t Dirk’s fault, or Sam’s, or Barry’s. It’s the reality of life and it’s a miracle that we can all get through it in one piece sometimes. And it’s only those who take those harsh words and spin them into steel and use them to keep themselves standing when the winds of life threaten to flatten them that become people like Mr. Wyatt – able to choose to live a life of influence and observation, hoping with each encounter to make just enough of a difference that one person will be affected for the better.
So, we’re left with seeing Dean’s journey through adolescent rebellion to adult rebellion, time and circumstance the only things that curb his appetite for a good-looking, willing woman. Still keeping everyone at arms length with a smirk and sarcasm. Still using the job as his normal. Still protecting his brother with every breath. Still doing the job, because it is the only thing he truly knows.
And we’re left with Sam’s heartbreaking guilt for the role he played in negatively effecting a boy’s life while trying to positively affect another—only to have both, ultimately lose their lives. Even if neither death was directly Sam’s fault, you can bet he’s blaming himself at some level for both. And we see him not being happy with the choices he’s made. We see him want something else out of life just as desperately now as when he went to college.
Boy. I feel heavy. I just… yeah. I’m so wrapped up in these guys, their story, how they’re effected by each step that is made, each move of the pawns on the chessboard that I have to remember to uncoil when the show is over.
As a quickie side-bar because this is already too long, I was glad they kept Colin Ford as Sam and I think they did a good job having Dirk tease Sam about his height to explain away his size as a freshman in high school. Plus? When he did kick Dirk’s ass, he did so with amazingly specific skills. I was duly impressed. Also? Teen Dean grew on me. At first, I didn’t see my Dean in the actor they chose, but as the story wore on, I saw the beginning of pain in his eyes and the haunting shadows of a life lost ghosting his cheeks. I saw a Dean that I could see growing into the broken hero I love, and it worked for me. He put on the tough-guy routine a little thick, but hey, he was playing a teenager, and when have you ever known a teenager to be able to balance the drama with the stoicism of reality on a consistent basis? I bought this teenaged rebel performance more than any Dylan McKay, Ryan Atwood attempt.
Next week? I get to see the show on Thursday! YAY me!
Hope to see you all then.